Next week, many students will soak up the sun on beaches in hot spots like Florida, the Bahamas and Aruba — but many are also choosing to avoid the typical destination of Mexico this year.

According to Ann Arbor travel agents, the number of spring break travelers going to Mexico has decreased this year because of safety concerns due to the Mexican drug wars and because students are saving money for more culturally-enriching trips abroad or within the United States.

Rashmi Popat, manager of Boersma Travel in Nickels Arcade, said the number of students heading to Mexico is down this year, in part due to the current violence related to Mexican drug cartels.

According to The Guardian, as of mid-January there have been 283 deaths in the year 2010 due to the Mexican drug war. Several cartels have been fighting with one another for control of the drug routes into the United States over the last few years, but violence has escalated since 2006, when President Felipe Calderón ordered 6,500 troops to try to end the fighting.

“Mexico travel has gone down compared to Jamaica or Costa Rica or any other places that people would go to,” Popat said.

Despite the violence in the country, Popat said travelers returning from Mexico haven’t reported experiencing anything dangerous and that the hesitation to visit the country stems from word of mouth accounts.

“You hear this, you hear that and people just have this idea (that Mexico is unsafe) and people just view it that way,” Popat said.

LSA sophomore Jenna Marine said she is one of roughly 15 girls in Kappa Alpha Theta sorority who is not traveling to Acapulco, Mexico for spring break this year because her parents will not allow her to go due to safety concerns.

“Every year usually everyone from my sorority goes,” Marine said. “It’s very Greek. All the sororities and frats that we hang out with go, but this year, for the first time, not everybody’s going.”

But Marine said she understands why her parents won’t let her go on the trip.

“Their reasoning was that it’s unsafe and that they didn’t want to pay $2,000 for me to get drunk on an unsafe beach in Mexico,” Marine said. “I feel like I wouldn’t let my daughter go either.”

Joni Marine, Jenna’s mother, said it is the excessive drinking on spring break trips coupled with the dangerous drug activities in Mexico that worry her.

“I think it’s the concept of spring break that you’re going for one reason — and one reason only — and that is to get drunk 24/7,” Joni Marine said. “If you’re going to go for that reason, I really don’t like it to be in an unsafe place.”

LSA junior Hunter Rojas, whose family owns a hotel in Cozumel, Mexico, said despite students’ concerns the hotel hasn’t seen a decrease in tourists thus far.

“The government has been able to do a decent enough job of keeping the wars away from high tourism places,” Rojas said. “In these big hotels you don’t even leave them, so it’s not like you’re going to be mixing with scary locals.”

But results from a recent survey conducted by STA Travel — a travel agency with offices around the world, including in the Michigan Union — showed a major shift in this year’s most popular destinations for students traveling on spring break trips.

In the survey of 600 college students, 60 percent said they planned to travel during break. An unusually low 10 percent of college students said they were traveling to Mexico, while a surprisingly high 34 percent reported Europe as their planned destination.

In October 2008, STA conducted a similar survey asking students about their 2009 spring break plans. The survey found that 78 percent of respondents planned to travel during the break — with 65 percent reporting that they were heading to Mexico, the Caribbean or a domestic beach location and 15 percent saying they were going to Europe.

At the STA in the Union, store manager Carolyn Okon reported an overall decline in the number of University students traveling for spring break this year.

Of those traveling, Okon said most are taking shorter four- or five-day trips to domestic locations, with Miami as the most popular destination.

“A lot of people seem to be saving (their) money to do a bigger trip in Europe over the summer, or at least that’s what they’ve communicated to us,” Okon said.

In an STA press release, James Bell, commercial vice president for STA Travel, wrote that this year’s shift in the most popular locations could be the result of students wanting a more culturally meaningful experience.

“What you’re seeing is a more globally-focused generation than in the past, and they want to use their time off to soak up the culture of Europe rather than the sun of Mexico,” he wrote.

STA spokesman Patrick Evans offered another explanation for the shift, saying that, in light of the economy, a trip to Europe this year is “a great value and a great opportunity.”

Evans said parents might favor trips to Europe not only because they are especially affordable right now, but also because if they are going to pay for their kids to travel somewhere, they want the expense to be worthwhile. He added that parents would rather picture their kids learning at museums in Europe than partying on a beach in Mexico.

LSA senior Domenic Terenzi is on the University’s Ginsberg Center Alternative Spring Break leadership team for site and development of ASB trips. He said the record number of applications — more than 500 — ASB received this year could also be a result of students looking for valuable experiences participating in community service work at affordable prices.

According to the Ginsberg Center website, ASB trips cost $125 per person.

“Financially, ASB makes a lot of sense for a lot of people,” Terenzi said.

He added that he thinks there is a growing interest on campus in social justice activities and ASB is a way for students to explore that interest.

“The whole getting drunk at a beach thing is getting overdone or cliché,” Terenzi said. “(Students are) making the most of that time in other ways.”

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