Snowbirds Cite $5/Gallon Fuel Price ‘Barrier’

April 5, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Sunland logoAs gas and diesel prices climb past $4 per gallon in Southern California, some snowbirds in ecreational vehicles say the rising costs could keep them closer to home, Palm Springs’ The Desert Sun reported.

They include Larry and Vivian Wiebe, who drive each year to the Coachella Valley from Alberta in their RV and are parked at the Palm Springs Oasis RV Resort in Cathedral City.

Fuel prices have risen about a dollar a gallon since the couple spent $579 on gasoline in November to make the 1,500-mile trip. Now, they’re faced with paying considerably more to get back home.

“It’s a strain. (But) we have to get back,” Larry Wiebe said.

If prices stay this high, the Wiebes said they may visit the Coachella Valley every other year instead of annually.

The price spike came late enough last year that it didn’t hurt local RV park occupancy, operators say. But they’re watching those prices closely and are worried that gloomy predictions of $5 gas will lead many RV owners to leave their rigs in the driveway.

“Are we concerned? Yes,” said Greg Sidoroff, vice president of Sunland RV Resorts, which operates Emerald Desert RV Resort in Palm Desert. “We just hope that our great guest service and marketing efforts will carry us through.”

Thousands of RV enthusiasts escape cold, cloudy hometowns each year to relax at the 20 or so parks from Desert Hot Springs to the Salton Sea. They spend money at local shops and restaurants, and provide cities with transient occupancy tax.

But driving homes-on-wheels that get 10 to 12 miles per gallon makes most RV owners extremely sensitive to fluctuations in pump prices.

“We’ve had a few cancelations across the system, but not a great panic as the last time,” Sidoroff added, referring to 2008, when prices at some California gas pumps hit $5 a gallon.

That $5 mark is the “psychological barrier” that keeps many RVs off the road, he said.

Sonoma County resident Roland Mellor agrees. He drove his RV to Cathedral City in March with his wife, Bev, for an annual gathering with friends. The couple usually visits Arizona, too, but gas prices prompted them to limit the trip to the valley.

“We look forward to the sunshine,” Mellor said. “Arizona lost out, Palm Springs made it.”

But if diesel prices were closer to $5, he’d consider canceling the trip altogether, he added.

Some RV enthusiasts are dodging the gas prices by avoiding the drive home entirely. Shadow Hills RV Resort in Indio just “had our best year ever” thanks in part to a new offer that allows visitors to store RVs on site for six months, said Paula Turner, the park’s co-owner.

“It’s cheaper for them to fly down and store it for six months,” Turner said.

For the return trip to Alberta, the Wiebes plan to prepare meals instead of spending at restaurants along the way to help offset costs.

“We won’t be eating, we just have to buy gas,” said Anna Calvert, also of Alberta.

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