'New Generation' of Snowbirds Flock to Yuma

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April 15, 2008 by   - () Leave a Comment

It wasn't a record year for northerners wintering in Yuma, Ariz., but local companies reported a strong season in terms of revenue, including recreational park trailer dealers.
The Yuma Sun reported that snowbirds seemed to start arriving earlier, stay longer and have a really good time, according to businesses that cater to the area's winter visitors and seasonal residents.
Many of them were new faces: Baby Boomers who are starting to hit early retirement age and looking for fun in the sun.
They also come with greater expectations than the previous winter visitor generation, raising the notch on amenities and activities they're looking for.
Jean Harris of Harris Tours noted that the company kept extra busy all winter ferrying snowbirds to concerts, hockey games and exotic tourist destinations.
Canadians, flush with a strong economy in the western provinces and a strong loonie against the U.S. dollar, also swelled the winter visitor ranks. They came not just to thaw out but also to snap up investment opportunities.
The Sun reported that Canadians are turning to a more upscale type of part-time home: the park models — 400-square-foot movable resort cottages designed for part-time recreational use. Typically upscale in appearance, they often include hardwood floors, bay windows and lofts as well as cherry, oak or maple cabinetry.
At Shangri-La RV Resort, "Almost every park model we had for sale went to Canadians," Saunders said.
Winter visitors helped Arizona's park model manufacturers sell 1,245 units in 2007, a 51% increase over the previous year, according to the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association. And while the economy has been tepid in recent months, a strong Canadian dollar has helped keep the cash registers ringing for park model dealers, including Wellton Park Model Sales.
"We're selling a ton of them," owner Frank Rogers said.
"A park model fits our lifestyle now," said Calvin Shaver, a retired banker from Alberta, Canada. Their park model is more spacious than their motorhome and provides a more comfortable setting for a winter home, he said.
At Sun Vista RV Resort, three-fourths of the domiciles are park models, Grooms said. "They have the ability to come and go without having to haul a big rig."
RV park managers were also enthusiastic about the season.
"We had an excellent season," said Dusty Grooms, manager of Sun Vista RV Resort. "We were filled to overflowing. We were ahead of last year all winter."
The park's Canadian population definitely was up, she said, adding that more than 27% of the occupants were from Canada compared to 19% a few years ago. But she also saw more younger people in their 50s.
It was the same story at Shangri-La RV Resort, reported assistant manager Debbie Saunders. "We had a really great season,” she said. “It seemed like people, especially the overnighters, stayed longer. There were a lot of new ones. They're getting younger … in their late 50s and early 60s. Six years ago when I started, it was the World War II generation in their 70s."
It's difficult to come up with hard numbers on how many winter people were in Yuma, especially since they come and go throughout the season. But the numbers were up this winter by about 5% over the previous year, based on a survey of 44 recreational vehicle parks conducted by Yuma Stats, which compiles a variety of statistics for subscribers.
Chris Camacho, president and CEO of Yuma Economic Development, said he's heard the total of winter visitors and residents ranged from 75,000 to 100,000.
The increase could be the result of a harsh winter in the North, but it could also reflect the first wave of retiring Baby Boomers, he said.
Mike Green, owner of RV World, saw a younger, first-time crowd this winter, noting, "There were a lot of first-time buyers this year. People come to Yuma, decide it's a nice place and get excited about the lifestyle.
"It's a whole new generation of snowbirds," Green continued.

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