For all the oil spill claims and cleanup work by BP, retirees from the North may be the best survival bet for some Gulf Coast resort towns this winter, ABC News reported.
After a disastrous summer tourism season and a slower-than-normal fall, Northern and Midwestern visitors known as “snowbirds” already are flocking along the Gulf for the winter, filling up condominium parking lots and campgrounds with cars and RVs from states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana.
This annual migration of the AARP set is worth millions to the coastal economy and typically serves a financial bridge for tourist-dependent condominiums, restaurants and stores between the holidays and the start of spring break season, when business picks up again.
This year, snowbirds are critical for the companies and property owners who have suffered for months because of the BP oil spill. Without the snowbirds, some businesses teetering on the edge of solvency may not make it until the weather warms up again.
“You take that away when they didn’t have anything to start with and you start a whole new tier of desperation,” said Tony Kennon, mayor of this beach town on the Alabama-Florida border.
The local tourism agency is advertising in the Midwest, inviting snowbirds to return to the coast. Winter rates always are far less than summer prices, with many condominium owners renting out their units to Northern visitors for months at a time. Some condominiums and motels are offering even lower prices than normal this year, with prices reduced by two-thirds at a few.
At the Gulf Breeze RV Resort in neighboring Gulf Shores, workers didn’t know whether snowbirds would be scared off by images of oil hitting beaches during the summer. Would they go elsewhere this year, perhaps to the East Coast or farther south into Central Florida?
Julie Kenney, who works at the RV park, was relieved to see campers from the Midwest begin arriving earlier than normal in late October. The resort’s 250 sites are now about 80% full, and it’s completely booked after Jan. 1 without any spill-related discounts.