Arizona Anticipates Good Snowbird Season

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August 25, 2008 by   - () Leave a Comment

Arizona’s sunshine still trumps below-zero temperatures and shoveling snow, even though it will cost the area's winter visitors more to get there.
A sampling of recreational vehicle parks in the Yuma area indicates the coming winter season is shaping up to be just fine, even though the nationwide average price of gas today is about a dollar more per gallon than a year ago.
"We're looking forward to a good season," said Donna Huckaby, who with her husband, Les, manages Westwind RV and Golf Resort. She said many of the park's 1,075 spaces have already been booked, with only an estimated 10% still available, according to the Yuma Sun.
She figures all those phone calls are being prompted by the cold and dreary weather in much of the northern states and Canada. The visitors may be changing their mode of operation, leaving their big RVs here and driving back and forth in a small car or even flying. "But they're still coming," Huckaby said.
After all, she said, it's something of a trade-off for the refugees from up north: the cost of getting here versus heating bills if they stayed home.
"Several Canadian couples have called already," Huckaby said. Traditionally, she said, the Canadians start heading south after their Thanksgiving in mid-October, while many Americans wait until after the U.S. holiday in late November. They may fly back home for Christmas, but then return. "January and February are by far our biggest months," Huckaby said, adding that she's expecting this winter to be better than last year, when the park never did completely fill up.
But then, she expects the word is getting out that the park has been getting a face-lift inside and out this summer.
Other RV park managers are just as optimistic about the coming winter season. "It's looking fine," said Diane Tayrien, who with her husband, Jay, manages the 302-space Shangri-La RV Resort.
"We have a lot of bookings. We've had some cancellations because of the gas prices, but for every one we lose, another calls. They're still coming." She estimates that about 30% of the park's visitors are from Canada and that number goes up each year as the dollar exchange rate continues to be favorable for them.
"Any Canadian who comes can afford to come," she said.
Candace Kirk, sales manager for the Yuma Visitors Bureau, said she's heard similar reports from RV park managers she's talked to.
"I've been hearing the parks are nearly full," she said. "People are coming back."
Business is going well even for Yuma's newest park, Palms RV Resort, that is getting ready to open for its first season Oct. 1. There, people buy their lot and can either park their RV on it or put up a home.
It's also designed to take winter living to a new level in Yuma with more amenities, said Bill Evans, project manager for the resort that is patterned after similar developments in Palm Springs, but with a lower pricetag.
Younger Crowd Looks to RV Parks
"We're trying to capture a new crowd," he said. It seems to be working. So far, he said, 54 lots of the total of 453 have sold and the park is getting a slow but steady stream of calls and even visitors who stop by.
"I'm surprised at the number of people traveling through Yuma scouting out where they want to spend the winter season," Evans said. "Hopefully that bodes well for the season. I know people are nervous about the price of gas. That may be a two-edged sword. They may not come or they may make Yuma their end destination."
Evans, Tayrien and Huckaby all agree they're seeing a shift in the profile of Yuma's winter visitors. They're younger, many of them in their 50s. Perhaps they're still working but take a few months off in the middle of the winter. "We're starting to see a trend toward Baby Boomers," Huckaby said. "If they're not retired, they're exploring the possibility."
They may buy a park model to use as a vacation home or rent it out for the season until they do retire, she said. Evans said he's been surprised at the number of people in their 50s who originally came to Yuma while in the military. "They remember it as a great place for the winter and 20 years later they're coming back."

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