Palm Springs Welcomes Spring Breakers

Students party in Palm Springs, Calif. during spring break.
Palm Springs has long been the playground of the rich and the retired. But now the peaceful city is taking a demographic detour, reports CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy.

Thousands of students are invading town for spring break.

"Oh my God," said Sheryl Barish, a middle-aged vacationer. "My last week here is going to be hell."

The 1963 movie "Palm Springs Weekend" turned Palm Springs into a spring break mecca - a boon for business. But in the '80s, things got ugly. Alcohol-fueled riots cost the city millions.

"We had hundreds and hundreds of kids a day in our jails," said Lee Weigel, with the Palm Springs City Council.

Weigel is the former police chief who helped break the spring break tradition with this warning: Come on vacation and leave on probation.

They shut down the main drag to discourage cruising.

"Give the city back to the people," said then-Mayor Sonny Bono in 1988.

Bono enacted what became known as "Bono's No-Nos," which included a ban on string bikinis. The students left. Palm Springs got quiet - too quiet. The recession has slowed tourism. Lately, the city's 6,500 hotel rooms have been less than half full. So this winter, the tourism bureau sent a text message to 55,000 college students saying, "Palm Springs want you back."

"We'd just like to let them know they're welcome and invited to come," said Mary Jo Ginther, the Palm Springs director of tourism.

They got the message. A Holiday Inn had been filling just 30 percent of its 249 rooms during the week. Now they are 75 percent full.

"Quite frankly, it's a good piece of business to have and the right days of the week to have it," said Tom Van Winkle, with the Holiday Inn.

But a lot of the students never expected to be here - they were heading south to Mexico until that trip got canceled. The fear over drug war violence there is boosting business in Palm Springs.

"Palm Springs or Mexico," one student said. "We're safe here."

Some students worried this might be too safe.

"I literally expected old people," said student Christina Cirkel. "I am sorry to all the old people out there."

No need to apologize, Tracy says they don't seem to mind.