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The business of spring break: At Lake Havasu City, the party starts online

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LAKE HAVASU CITY – On a Facebook page dedicated to spring break in this western Arizona city, perhaps it isn’t surprising to see a featured picture showing a young woman sporting a bikini top, bellybutton ring and Mardi Gras beads, her arms raised in celebration.

But this isn’t just any page: Those arms extend to a superimposed sign saying “Lake Havasu,” while immediately below her navel is a matching sign saying “Arizona’s playground.”

When revelers ask about hot spots for parties and suggest bands they’d like to see perform during their time here, those offering comments, suggestions and “likes” often are from the city’s hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

“Hey! Hit up Kokomos and BJs to start, and the channel will start bumpin soon!” says a comment linked to the Havasu Travelodge’s Facebook page. “MadDogs always has a good crowd on Tuesdays too…”

This page, run by a local firm for the Lake Havasu Convention and Visitors Bureau, is one way business and civic leaders are embracing this community’s status as a spring break mecca by trying to attract young visitors and their wallets as well as directing them to the fun.

“For this audience, this particular market, the best way to reach these college students, the young people that are looking to come here for spring break, is through social media,” said Doug Traub, the bureau’s president and CEO.

Depending on which official one asks, an estimated 25,000 to 50,000 young people will spend their 2012 spring break at the beach and on the lake here.

Spring break at Lake Havasu is often portrayed beyond this community as an out-of-control party, but Traub said that image is exaggerated and that businesses aim to make sure the young visitors enjoy their time here.

“It’s about the exhilaration of being young; it’s about that time of your life where you’re in that process of learning and growing and you’re free of a lot of the responsibilities that shackle us as we get into our later years,” he said. “It’s a true celebration of that spirit we have here in this town.”

Ultimately, Traub and others said, the goal is establishing Lake Havasu City as a place where revelers will return for vacations and perhaps even retirement.

At the Red Robin franchise owned by Dante Marinelli, servers are trained to help visitors identify fun things to do during their time here. It’s part of an effort organized by the Lake Havasu Hospitality Association.

“It’s not just for the three weeks that our kids are going to be here on spring break, but it’s what they are going to bring back to us after they have a real job, a real family and that type of thing,” Marinelli said.

Police Chief Dan Doyle said that philosophy applies to how his officers treat visitors not just during spring break but throughout the year. The biggest challenge for officers during spring break is underage drinking, he said, but arrests usually occur when someone is causing problems or otherwise drawing the attention of police.

“They’re coming here, they want to have a good time, but they also want to feel safe,” Doyle said. “We balance that with, ‘We want you here, we want you to come back and we want you to be safe while you’re here.’”

These days, the first contact for many considering spring break at Lake Havasu is through the Internet and social media. The community’s official spring break Facebook page has more than 4,000 followers.

The Lake Havasu Convention and Visitors Bureau hired a local firm, Static Management, to handle its spring break Facebook presence, Traub said, and its promotional strategy has shifted away from advertising in college newspapers and websites.

One promotion through the Facebook page asks followers to post videos explaining why should receive a free hotel room. Another had dozens sharing their votes for which bands should be featured at a popular venue.

“Spending our dollars on any other medium is not going to have the same kind of impact as talking one-on-one with all these folks that are considering us a destination,” Traub said.

Area businesses, with their own Facebook pages, are active on the page, often liking and commenting on visitors’ posts, suggesting topics for discussion and promoting their offerings.

“If you are still needing a boat–Give us a call today! We are filling up fast,” said a recent post by Tina Patterson, owner of Wet Monkey Powersports Rentals.

“I can reach a large amount of people with just a single click,” she told a reporter.

Traub said it’s all part of this community embracing spring break in a way that many other cities don’t.

“Here in Havasu I have to say 90 percent or more of the population very much understands what it’s like to be young and in school and why having a fun spring break is important,” he said.