Returning Winter Texans Bill and Judy Zorrer are not letting the national economic slowdown and reports of border violence in Mexico affect their plans to travel to the Rio Grande Valley this winter, the Brownsville Herald reported.
“It’s something that appears very scary on the news,” Bill said about reports of kidnappings and shootings. “But we feel that (Nuevo) Progreso is still relatively safe.”
The Zorrers have made the Fun N Sun RV Resort in San Benito their winter home for the past three years. This year they plan to stay in the Valley until April.
“We sold our home and travel for a living now,” he said. “We can’t let the economy or anything else get in the way of the way we live our lives.”
They said that when they go to Mexico, they make sure to travel in a large group and only travel during daylight hours.
“To tell you the truth, (low) prices are what keep us going to (Nuevo) Progreso,” Bill said.
Fun N Sun office manager Bethlee Huff said she receives many calls from Winter Texans who are concerned about travel to Mexico and the safety of the park. Still, the park’s daily count sheet states that 280 RVs have arrived there so far this season, a number that is on track with other years.
“We don’t promote travel to Mexico,” Huff said. “But a lot of people call and ask us about the state of the border. Ultimately, they do end up going to Nuevo Progreso, because many Winter Texas have gone without any problems.”
Huff explained that Winter Texans arrive daily; many of them have taken part in the early bird special, which entices the Winter Texans to arrive early and stay later, at reduced rates.
“To qualify for the early bird, they must have booked by the end of March the previous season, and spend four or more months at the park,” Huff said.
Fun N Sun’s discount is $75 for October, compared to the park’s regular price of $362, Huff said. It also charges $99 for November and April, she said, adding that the regular price for those months is $469 and $428, respectively. The prices include water, cable TV plus the park’s amenities.
In Harlingen, Paradise Park manager Dan Pearson said he expects about 1,000 Winter Texans and 500 RVs to return this year, a number that is holding steady with the previous year.
“Winter Texans aren’t greatly affected by the economy like other groups,” Pearson said. “A lot of them have pensions, or money saved up.”
Pearson also supported the attitude that despite border violence, Winter Texans will still migrate here when the weather turns frosty in northern states.
“There really is no competing with the Valley,” Pearson said. “The climate in Florida is basically the same, and for a couple of thousand dollars cheaper, Winter Texans can come and enjoy all the Valley has to offer.”
Penny Simpson, head of the Valley Markets and Tourism Research Center at the University of Texas-Pan American, believes that the number of Winter Texans staying in the Valley will continue to grow, unless an unforeseen national tragedy occurs.
“The only time Winter Texan numbers have diminished was after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11,” Simpson said. “The effect border violence will play in their decision to visit the Valley is not available yet, but it will be interesting to know if it’s going to play a role.”
Simpson has been researching the impact of Winter Texans on the Valley since 1986, and according to her findings, an estimated 144,000 Winter Texans pumped a total of $802.5 million into the Valley’s economy, during the 2009 season.
Simpson’s 1986 study found that a total of 77,000 Winter Texans were present that year and that each Winter Texan household spent an average of $2,500 during their stay.
Twenty-one years later, for the 2009 season, Simpson reported that the average household spent $10,700 during the winter season.
Huff and Pearson both cited gas prices as a concern for some returning Winter Texans. As a result, last year Fun N Sun kept an estimated 82 RVs in storage and Paradise Park held 30, the park managers said.
The spike in gas prices, which averaged around $4 per gallon in 2008, made it more economical for some Winter Texans to leave their RVs here, rather than tow them to their summer homes, Huff and Pearson said.
“During the gas crunch of 2008, many Winter Texans opted to leave their RVs in storage, because gas prices were incredibly high,” Huff said. “But if gas prices stay the way they are now, we won’t be seeing that in the coming year.”
For Donald and Barbara Seiwald, the choice to leave their RV behind last season was purely for convenience.
“We won’t be driving to the Valley until later this week,” Barbara Seiwald said from her home in Independence, Mo. “This is our fifth year leaving our RV at Sun N Fun, and it’s just a lot easier not having to worry about the drive, especially for older individuals like ourselves.”
She said that when they arrive, their RV would be sitting in their lot, prepped and ready for them.
“It saves us a lot of time and effort,” she said.
Driving from Urbana, Ohio, Judy and Kenneth Batterton said their return to the Valley took two days.
Judy Batterton said that this was their second year in the Valley and that hospitality and friendliness brought them back.
“The Valley and Florida are fairly similar,” she said. “But Floridians aren’t as friendly as Texans.”
The Battertons arrived only days after the Valley made national headlines when a Mexican investigator’s head was delivered in a suitcase to the Mexican military in Miguel Aleman. The investigator was looking into the disappearance of David Hartley, a case that has attracted national attention.
“That’s horrible,” Judy Batterton said. “We weren’t aware of the new developments in that case, but we still believe that traveling to specific parts of Mexico, like (Nuevo) Progreso is safe.”
Still, some Winter Texans like Jan Valdenna, who has been coming to the Valley with her husband Chuck since 1995, are concerned about traveling to Mexico.
“I will not be going as much,” Jan said. “It’s really unfortunate, because Mexico is such a beautiful place. I know couples limit their time in Mexico due to the violence.”
Huff and Pearson both expect the number of returning Winter Texans to remain strong and predict December through March to be peak season.
“They’re rolling in on a daily basis,” Huff said. “And that’s going to continue until we reach our peak.”