Saturday, November 17, 2018
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20181017 IMG 3292In Sharon, Minn., 14 inches of snow fell in 24 hours between Oct. 10 and 11.

A comment on the National Weather Service's website read “there was some melting, so the actual amount could have been higher.”

A few days earlier in the Rio Grande Valley, the high temperature was in the low 90s, the sun was bright and people were flocking to South Padre Island for the beach, many going to check out the annual “Sandcastle Days” event.

Where would you rather be?

More winter visitors are discovering the Rio Grande Valley. The biggest reason they come to South Texas is the weather. Winter Texans are pretty smart; they would much rather spend the day at the beach than shoveling snow.

In addition to a myriad of beach activities to choose from, such as sailing, fishing, surfing or dolphin watch cruises, there are a host other outdoor activities that Winter Texans enjoy while in the Rio Grande Valley – when it’s just too cold up north. Popular activities for Winter Texans include golf, birding and nature, swimming or participating in any number of activities offered at the Valley’s many RV and mobile home resorts that cater to Winter Texans.

In fact, according to the 2017-18 Winter Texan Report published by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Business and Tourism Research Center, the top reason Winter Texans come to the Valley is because of the mild winter weather – where the average winter temperature is 72 degrees. The next most popular reason is the cost of living, followed by friendly people and social activities.

20181017 IMG 5362“The combination of warm winter weather, numerous outdoor activities, numerous RV and mobile home parks, friendly people, and a low cost-of-living are powerful incentives in attracting wintering visitors,” the report states, which was directed by UTRGV's Dr. Penny Simpson, adding that first-time Winter Texans increased. “This year, 5.4% of study respondents indicated that this was their first time in the RGV. This percentage is well above the percentage of first-timers since 2010.”

There are early indicators once again that the trend will continue this year. Victoria Palms is already reporting a 30 percent increase in first-timers over last year.

“We have seen the numbers increase each year recently,” said Lori Fanaselle, activities director at Victoria Palms Resort in Donna. “The demographics seem to be changing slightly too. There are more people coming who are in that 55-65 [age] range than we've seen in recent years, but we still have a wide mixture of ages coming and we keep that in mind when planning our activities.”

The study concludes that there was a 10.4-percent increase in Winter Texans during the 2017-2018 season. Last year, park managers all across the Valley saw indications early that the season was on an upswing. Seeing those numbers that early in the season, however, gave park managers pause, not wanting to “count their chickens before they hatched.”

But they hatched, and kept hatching.

Bentsen Palms RV in Mission, Bit-O-Heaven RV and Mobile Home Park in Donna, and Alamo Rec-Veh in Alamo and others all reported early increases in numbers and upcoming reservations. Nobody was shouting it from the mountaintops last season, but all indicators were positive, even in mid-October.

20181017 Halloween Costumes WTs“I think we are going to be above the market average when it comes to residency this year,” said Rocky Ramirez, park manager at Alamo Palms Mobile Park in Alamo. “I think the increase in part is due to keeping our product up-to-date and fresh. We're always adding things and listening to what our residents enjoy.... I think we're having a good swing upwards to the market.”

Reason #2: Lower Cost of Living

When it comes to selecting a region of the country to move to, northern retirees will generally choose from three areas – Florida, Arizona and South Texas. Nearly 40 percent of the Winter Texans surveyed for the study said they have lived in another winter resort area prior to South Texas, 60 percent of them living in Florida for one or more seasons. The Winter Texan report indicated that the “cost-of-living” reason for moving to South Texas increased significantly from the prior studies. That category had typically been ranked fifth as reasons to come to South Texas. However, for the most recent report, it shot up to the second most popular reason Winter Texans come to South Texas.

“Residents would pay top dollar in the Florida market and they are going to see that they will be paying half the price with the same type of amenities and getting the same or better service down here,” Ramirez said.

Others have echoed the same, some with personal testimony.

“I know from personal experience that it's much cheaper here than either of the other two places (Arizona and Florida),” said Linda VanRyn, general manager for Llano Grande Lake Park Resort in Mercedes. “We have so many people that say this place is the best kept secret there is.”

VanRyn said that the resort did very well last year, peaking in January and February when the park was at 100 percent capacity.

Reservations this year show another good year, and maybe better.

“People are also feeling better about traveling to the Valley,” she said. “There was some stress for a while when people were worried about violence in Mexico but that seems to be less of an issue now.”

SPI Sees Big Increase in Winter Texans

The effect of the increase was not only felt at Winter Texan parks, but also by places and events that Winter Texans enjoy – like heading to South Padre Island, the best beach in Texas.

“We could tell midway through the season that this was a good year in terms of the number of Winter Texan visitors we had either living or visiting the Island,” said Keith Arnold, director of the South Padre Island Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. “There was probably a 20 percent increase in visitors. It was a great year....”

RGV Activities Attract Winter Texans

Having a wide range of winter activities available to participate in is another reason Winter Texans flock to the Valley. According to the Winter Texan report the activities that Winter Texans participated in include visiting flea markets (97.1%), historical sites (90.1%), festivals (88.4%), musical performances, productions or jam sessions (87.8%), going to the beach (87.1%) and going to wildlife and nature refuges (83.9%).

The Other #1 Reason

“We hear that the biggest draw to come to the Valley – other than the weather – is the friendliness of the people in the parks. You're going to know someone real soon if you come to our park,” Fanaselle said. “Plus there is so much going on here – it's amazing all the things that are available within a 45-minute drive [or less.”

“We really do hear that all the time from Winter Texans. Many of them have been to Florida and Arizona and they tell us that the people here in South Texas are so much friendlier. And the fact that the cost of living is much less in South Texas helps them enjoy more with their retirement income. The people and the businesses here truly do welcome Winter Texans – and look forward to them coming to the Valley each fall,” said Jim Brunson, publisher of the Winter Texan Times.

The welcome mat is out for you, so come on down and enjoy your winters in deep South Texas.

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