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Sunbelt RV Parks Diversify Their Offerings

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February 17, 2010 by   Leave a Comment

The stereotypical image of Snow Birds is a group of older adults lounging around a swimming pool, soaking up the sun.

But while that image may apply to some Snow Birds some of the time, retired Baby Boomers who spend the winter at the larger RV parks and resorts across the Sunbelt are more likely to be taking classes in Tai Chi or Qi Gong, refining their artistic skills with wood carving, ceramics or calligraphy or attending daylong seminars on music and politics by professors from Ivy League universities, according to a news release. Some RV parks even have their own theatrical and choral groups and host their own arts and crafts shows and sporting tournaments.

“Today’s retired Baby Boomers are nothing like retirees of the World War II generation,” said Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC). “This is a very active group that thrives on activities, classes and entertainment.”’

Similarly, today’s RV parks and resorts are nothing like the Snow Bird parks of a generation ago. In fact, RV parks and resorts that cater to retired Baby Boomers increasingly offer classes, activities and special events to keep their snowbird guests entertained throughout the winter months.

Consider Palm Creek Golf & RV Resort in Casa Grande, Ariz. The park offers numerous recreational activities, including aerobics, Pilates, tai chi, yoga, lawn bowling, softball and volleyball, while those who like to dance can take classes in everything from cabaret dancing to line, square and Western dancing.

Palm Creek also offers more than a dozen arts and crafts classes, including ceramics, pottery, sewing, oil painting, watercolor painting, silver smithing, stained glass and wood carving. In fact, its winter guests produce so many high quality craft items that the resort now has a monthly craft fair.

“We’re not very sedentary here,” said Wendell Johnson, general manager. “I’d say probably 70-80% of our guests pursue something here other than lying out by the pool.”

Voyager RV Resort in Tucson, Ariz., offers similar classes and activities, as well as Qi Gong, a Chinese exercise class, in addition to a class where guests can learn choreographed spirit dance, jazz dance and free form dance.

Last year, Chicago-based Equity LifeStyle Properties, which owns RV resorts throughout the Sunbelt, launched a lecture series at several of its parks in Florida and Arizona that featured professors from Harvard and Yale who talked about a variety of topics, from the music to Mozart to the role of women in politics.

The lecture series was so popular that the program has been expanded this year, with topics including “Music And The Brain: Why We Like The Music We Like,” by Professor Craig Wright of Yale University; “FDR And The Path To World War II,” by Professor Richard Pios of Columbia University and seminars on Gershwin’s most popular songs by Professor Orin Grossman of Fairfield University.

Randall Hendrickson, manager of Leaf Verde RV Resort in Buckeye, Ariz., said organized activities provide opportunities for park guests to forge strong friendships with one another, while stimulating repeat visits to the park.

“At Leaf Verde,” he said, “we have augmented the activity schedule to include water aerobics, yoga, water volleyball, casino trips and bus tours. These have been extremely well received, and our returning guests are amazed at all there is to do. Literally every day there is an activity available to serve all interests.”

Meanwhile, The Great Outdoors RV Resort in Titusville, Fla., offers its winter guests daily activities, including Zumba, kickboxing, hi-low dance aerobics, pilates, total body toning, yoga and group meditation as well as classes in calligraphy, photography, oil painting, and rubber stamping. The park also has formed clubs for virtually every type of interest, from knitting to kayaking to motorcycling.

Many private park operators now see activities being an essential part of their business strategy.

“If you’re trying to attract Snow Birds, you’ve got to have activities,” said Jolene Wade, managing partner of the Fountain of Youth Spa and RV Park in Niland, Calif. Her park, located in the Southern California desert just east of the Salton Sea, features natural hot springs and some of the best winter weather in the country. But even with those attractions, she offers numerous activities, including radio control aircraft flying, a clown school, bocce ball, therapeutic and water exercise classes and dances with live music.

Many parks have also expanded their entertainment offering and now host frequent dances and even dinner shows with professional entertainers.

“The last time I did a luau I hired an act out of Las Vegas to perform,” said Doreen Fuller, activities director for Rincon Country RV Resort in Tucson. That’s a sharp contrast to a generation ago, when a big social event at an RV park was a potluck.

“In the ’80s, people had less money to spend,” Fuller said. “They were from the Depression era and they didn’t let loose of their money very easily.

So a $4 or $5  ticket in those days was a lot of money. Today, we still have $5 and $6 tickets, but we also have $12 and $15 tickets for the bigger shows. I thought that was going to hurt us this year, but we haven’t had any problem selling tickets to our shows.”

That’s not to say that retirees are not interested in saving money. In fact, the activities program at Golden Village Palms RV Resort in Hemet, Calif., is drawing its largest crowds ever, partly as retirees scale back their investments in entertainment options outside the RV parks and resorts where they spend the winter, said Greg Sidoroff, operations manager for La Jolla, Calif.-based SunLand RV Resort, which owns the Hemet park.

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