EDINBURG - For most students, spring break is a time to relax, enjoy the sunshine and hang out with friends. But two professors and some students at The University of Texas-Pan American are using the time to study the impact of spring-breakers on South Padre Island.
According to Dr. Vern Vincent, University professor and director of the Center for Tourism Research, the primary purposes of the survey are to learn why visitors selected South Padre Island over other locations and whether they plan to return next year. The project cost is $2,800, which has been paid for by Island officials.
"We want to look at several things, such as the economic impact in terms of dollars brought to the Island and the types of jobs generated," Vincent said. "We're also gathering demographic data on how many are here and why they picked the Island. By doing so, we hope to better market the Island to spring-breakers."
A group of approximately 18 UTPA students from professor Dr. Bill Thompson's marketing and research class - with help from 30-35 students at UT Brownsville - began interviewing spring-breakers about 10 days ago. Research is expected to continue through March, Vincent said.
About 150,000-200,000 high school and university students are expected to stay on South Padre Island or nearby cities this year, compared to 150,000 spring-breakers last year, said officials with the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau. Texas Week, March 13-17, is regarded as the busiest week of spring break.
Overall, about 600 spring-breakers, specifically college students, will be interviewed for the survey. The 5-10 minute questionnaire has 25 questions covering a wide range of topics, such as number of visits to South Padre Island, planned length of stay, number in traveling party, activities participated in and areas visited, and total planned expenditures.
The findings should be released this summer from the first study conducted on spring break in about a decade, Vincent said. The report will be available for public consumption, including the South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and others.
"This is just another piece of the puzzle we're looking at for tourism in South Texas, which is really booming," said Vincent, adding Island organizations have used data from the Center's Winter Visitor study. "We're delighted to do this type of study, and the students have been eager to participate."
The financial impact of spring break on South Padre Island is evident.
Last year, more than $700,000 in occupancy and sales tax revenues was collected in March, said Linda Whitby of the South Padre Island Economic Development Corp. Approximately $481,000 was generated in hotel/motel/condo occupancy tax revenues, with another $219,000 from sales and use taxes.
"We'd like to know the results from the survey because we want to get an indication of what activities spring-breakers would like to have and whether they were pleased with their accommodations," Whitby said. "We'd also like to know what they think of South Padre in general so we can compare it to other locations."