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Gen Z, Spring Break and Coronavirus

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Generation Z. Have you heard of it? Are you a member? Who are Gen Zers?

According to Bloomberg News, "Generation Z (or Gen Z for short) is the demographic cohort succeeding millennials and preceding Generation Alpha. Researchers and popular media use the mid-1990s as starting birth years and the early 2010s as ending birth years … teens and young adults roughly between the ages of 7 and 22 …"


Gen Z includes current high schoolers and college students. There's an interesting conjunction of circumstances right now as we enter the second week of March. Spring break is colliding with the world-wide concern over the fast-spreading Coronavirus, also referred to as COVID-19.

In general, there are two main schools of thought about the virus. The first and most prominent thinking is that the virus is extremely contagious and harmful. This has resulted in mass quarantines, such as sporting events prohibiting fans attending games, entire geographic regions told to stay home, cruise ships denied docking, and other dramatic measures.

The second school of thought says that COVID-19 is just another flu virus that is no more deadly than "regular" flu viruses that kill upwards to 20,000 people annually during flu season. So far, there have been nowhere near those levels of death from Coronavirus, even though some projections have gone as high as 15 million dead. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

In any event, parents, high schoolers and college students must now decide what to do about the annual rite of spring break. Should students stay home? Should they undertake a "safe" spring break? Or should they let the good times roll and party as if nothing out of the ordinary is going on?

Students May Be Less Concerned About Coronavirus

These are legitimate questions about which I've wondered myself. If you've been following the virus-related threads on the College Confidential discussion forum (such as this one, this one, and this one), you've seen the level of concern by parents and students. That's why I was intrigued by the survey results that came to me this past week from EduBirdie, which focuses on college students.

What grabbed my attention was the introduction to the survey information (my bold emphasis added):

Every year, after midterms have come to an end, college kids take the time given for spring break to blow off steam. For many, this means hitting a popular all-inclusive beach vacation destination with their friends with a trip that some Gen-Z kids might even consider a college rite of passage ...

… we decided to survey Gen Z and find out how they are spending their time away from school. To no surprise, the coronavirus isn't fazing these kids as they plan to have nothing stop them from reaching their party-filled vacations.

Check the Survey Results

In light of the virus concerns, I'm wondering how many high-volume discussions took (or are taking) place between students, both high school and college, and their parents about spring break plans. Regardless, let's take a look at the survey findings. I've highlighted the key stats.

Spring break is one of the most popular travel times of the year and EduBirdie – a hub for Gen Z insights – announces the results of its newest survey, revealing the hottest destinations for 2020. The study showed that warm weather and a low drinking age are priorities for vacationers as they book their tickets for the break. At the same time, the spread of coronavirus is causing many to rethink their travel plans: 76 percent of Gen Z survey participants reported being skeptical about traveling and 23 percent shared they are considering canceling existing travel plans.

Spring break has always been known to be one of the most exciting trips for college students and recent graduates; it is an opportunity for friends in the same city or from different locations across the country to come together and relax in a new place. When spending time together off-campus, people want to relax, but it comes at a cost. While EduBirdie found that only 30 percent of freshman and sophomores typically go on spring break trips, 54 percent of juniors and 67 percent of seniors will be going on a spring break trip this year. Third and fourth year students – and those in graduate school – are typically less reliant on their parents both financially and emotionally, which means they have the flexibility and means to plan a trip ...

When determining where to take their holiday, EduBirdie's study found that 49 percent of respondents prefer beach destinations over a colder ski vacation. The study also revealed that the top five most popular destinations for 2020 spring break are Puerto Vallarta, Punta Cana, Cancun, Key West and Nassau, further proving that people want to drink and celebrate on their breaks, even if they are under 21.

When planning a spring break, 81 percent of user surveys said that being of drinking age is of the highest priority. Drinking culture is prominent among young Americans. Students want to be able to kick back and enjoy their breaks, and many of the most popular destinations this year have a drinking age that is under 21, so students will not have to worry about legal issues.

Vacation packages or hotels and destinations that provide all-inclusive deals often attract the most spring breakers, allowing those 18-22 year-olds to have as much freedom under a limited budget. Over 40 percent of survey takers reported picking up side jobs to help expense their trips.

EduBirdie's most recent survey had 1,205 participants from Generation Z. The content creation platform primarily serves a Generation Z audience and conducts regular studies to gain insights into the thoughts and behaviors of this population

Some Schools Take Action

That's the view from the EduBirdie survey. For another perspective, here's some information from The Kansas City Star:

Universities across the country — including Purdue in Indiana, Northwestern in Chicago and Oklahoma State University — have canceled school-sponsored spring break trips abroad.

The University of Kansas canceled this week's spring break study abroad program in Italy after U.S. health officials warned against non-essential travel to the country because it's been hit so hard by the virus.

"With spring break approaching, we encourage you to be thoughtful about personal travel," KU chancellor Douglas A. Girod told students and staff in a message March 2. "Specifically, we strongly encourage you to reconsider any personal international travel you may have planned."

Schools are warning college students that if they travel internationally they risk not only exposure to the virus but being quarantined when they return. At the University of Oklahoma, students who travel to certain countries affected by the virus will be required to self-quarantine themselves for 14 days before they're allowed back on campus ...

… some people are nervous about traveling within the country, too … KU student Grace Carlson wanted to visit friends in Boston over spring break, which runs March 9-15. She's spent past spring breaks in Colorado, Nashville and Charleston, South Carolina.

Then she saw how much it would cost to fly from Kansas City to Boston. Then, the coronavirus broke out. "I definitely don't want to" go now, Carlson said. "It kind of helped me make up my mind and decide."

There are probably no consolidated data that can accurately document the macro-trend of student thinking about spring break decisions. In my view, decisions are likely being made depending on which of the two schools of thought one has about the coronavirus.

If you think the virus is both highly contagious and deadly, then you'll probably not be hitting the beach. You may also encounter somewhat extreme actions by your college or high school. I've seen news reports of colleges canceling classes and fan attendance at sporting events. High schools have closed for multiple weeks.

On the other hand, if you view COVID-19 as just another flu "germ," it may be business as usual for you. In fact, you may be sunning yourself on a beach somewhere as I type these words. Keep in mind, however, that things may change quickly, and even though you may have sailed through spring break unscathed, upon your return to school you may find yourself quarantined if your school's administration deems the area where you traveled to be highly infectious. This is especially true for foreign travel to places like Italy.

Bottom line: Be ready for anything. These are not normal times!

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