Analysis by Brannan Doyle
School is now fully in session in the U.S., and upcoming fall schedules are the first opportunity this season for hoteliers to capitalize on an influx of traveling students and their families. More specifically, the hotel industry can plan on peak fall break demand during the first half of October 2023.
Fall break, already
STR’s thorough database of public school districts showed 11 September to be the latest K-12 start date of the year—except for those districts delayed due to contract disputes. Those starting during the second week of September were fringe cases as comparisons with a similar data set from Pew Research confirmed a majority of students were already back in the classroom by the time Labor Day had come and gone.
There is a larger contingent of colleges and universities that didn’t start their fall classes until this final week of September, but most (if not all) of these institutions run on a trimester or quarterly system that represent less than 5% of our higher education sample.
With those start dates in mind, that means we are already approaching fall break season. Close to half of K-12 students will have at least one break between Labor Day and Thanksgiving—47% to be exact. This represents nearly 12 million students in STR’s sample, and since our sample covers just over half of the K-12 students in the U.S., it is reasonable to expect that the actual number of students with a fall break is about twice that.
Peak weekends approaching
This year, fall break schedules for K-12 students in public school districts produce a similar pattern to last year. The first true peak lands on the weekend of 7 October, closely followed by a second peak the next weekend.
Break availability will taper off after that but remain a factor for the following three weekends (a little less so on Halloween weekend). It is also worth noting that in fall of 2022 there was a small, but significant, spike around the last weekend of September that will be more subdued in 2023. Any destinations that reaped the benefit of this late-September travel last year may anticipate a slight lull for the matching weekend this year.
Fall breaks are less common in the college landscape, with just 39% of college students scheduled for a fall break. The college fall break season is also spread over a longer span (with some institutions scheduling their first fall break weekend as early as mid-August), but there are two distinct spikes with about 15% of college students on break during the weekends of 8 October and 15 October.
An inbound opportunity
When looking at higher education, fall break scheduling can be a useful predictor of students traveling away from campus. However, there is another indicator that can predict inbound travel: Homecoming.
This is the first year that Homecoming scheduling has been included in the School Break Report. The data indicates that the weekend of 22 October will be the most popular for Homecoming celebrations this year, with roughly one million students in our sample included in schools celebrating that weekend.
After the travel boom of the last few years, leisure demand has certainly cooled around the U.S. At the same time, demand continues to move toward normal seasonal patterns for business travel and major cities. That means that hoteliers need to pay extra attention to anticipate and capitalize on leisure demand opportunities. In addition to the patterns outlined for this fall, winter break scheduling may also impact travel availability as we look ahead to November and December. Learn more about how our School Break Report can help unveil complex calendar patterns for the remainder of this academic year.