A lackluster economy, drug violence in Mexico, fewer people retiring early, and health concerns have caused a drop in the number of Winter Texans visiting Rio Grande Valley RV parks this season, park managers and residents say.
According to a report by The Monitor, McAllen, Texas, numbers are down as much as 25% at many RV parks at the start of the season that runs from January through February, they said.
“They were great last year, but this year they’re down,” Barbara North, manager of First Colony Mobile and RV Park in San Benito, said.
First Colony has seen a 15% decrease due to the nation’s tough economy and fear of violence in Mexico, North said. “The numbers have grown until this year,” she said.
In 2010, the number of Winter Texans reached a record high, with 144,000 driving to the Valley, said Penny Simpson, a professor who researches tourism at the University of Texas-Pan American. The 2010 season saw numbers slowly rebounding from the slump that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, she said. Before 9/11, the numbers had peaked at 143,000.
A summer 2011 survey of 130 Winter Texans hinted numbers could drop about 5% this winter, Simpson said. “We were trying to get a feel if the numbers were down,” Simpson said.
The survey asked whether health, gas prices, the economy or violence and terrorism would influence Winter Texans’ decision to spend the winter in the Valley, Simpson said. In her survey, Winter Texans cited health as the top factor behind their decision to stay home this year, Simpson said.
The Winter Texan industry is a major driver of the Valley’s economy, Simpson said, adding that in 2010, Winter Texans pumped $802.5 million into the local economy.
Anita Pearson, manager of Park Place Estates RV park in Harlingen said, “They’re a little down from what they were last year,” about 5 percent lower than last year, when the 859-site park was at 85% capacity.
Pearson blamed the drop on a national trend that’s leading Americans to work past the traditional retirement age of 65.
“People are working longer. They’re not retiring as young,” Pearson said. “We’re not getting early retirees because people are not retiring as early as they used to. They’re doing other things, like taking cruises and time shares and not staying in one place for six months.”
Barbara Baumhofer, a retired factory supervisor from Mora, Minn., said hard times and illness among an aging Winter Texan population dropped numbers from 7% to 10% at Victoria Palms Resort in Donna.
Bonnie Klaver said she hasn’t seen as many younger retirees at Texas Trails RV Resort in Pharr.
“The younger people aren’t coming down as much,” said Klaver, a retired farmer from Webster City, Iowa, who has spent 11 winters in the Valley. “They aren’t RVers. They probably don’t have the money to do it yet.”
For decades, the All Valley RV Show has been a top attraction for Winter Texans, but numbers have dropped from peak years in the mid-1990s, when attendance hit about 15,000, said Warren Kininmonth, the event’s chairman.
“This economy is affecting everyone,” said Kininmonth, who said he was counting on numbers to rebound from 8,000 last year. “It’s everywhere.”