'Winter Texan' Business Holding Steady
Doug Shearer was admittedly concerned last summer when record high fuel prices prompted scores of retirees to cancel their winter reservations at his 93-site campground, located in the Texas Hill Country along the shores of the Frio River near Garner State Park.
It’s a different story today.
Shearer's Parkview Riverside RV Park is packed with “Winter Texans” and the resort’s January occupancies will easily match last January’s figures. “From now through summer,” Shearer said in a news release, “it’s looking very good for us.
Many other private parks that cater to winter visitors are reporting similarly strong levels of business, said Shearer, who was elected president of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) earlier this month. “Most of our members are experiencing a fantastic winter,” he said.
“We are full again this year,” said Karen Pike, manager of Victoria Palms Resort in Donna, Texas, which has 850 RV sites, 250 mobile home sites and a hotel. “We’re booked up through at least April 1st.”
“There are a lot of parks in the Rio Grande Valley that are completely full,” said Lois Hartman, office manager of the 378-site Oleander Acres RV Park in Mission. “I think a lot of them are doing quite well.”
Oleander Acres, for its part, is also enjoying strong business, Hartman said. “It seems like we have a few more people than we did last year,” she said.
Economy-Minded Vacationers Eye Texas
The strong Winter Texan business isn’t limited to parks in the Rio Grande Valley or South Texas.
“We’re having extremely strong Winter Texan activity,” said Gwen Craig, who owns two private parks in the Woodlands area north of Houston, including the 115-site Rayford Crossing RV Resort in Spring and the 45-site Timber Ridge RV Village in Magnolia. “I think most parks in this area have seen the same thing as well,” she said.
And while record jumps in gasoline and diesel prices and declining stock values initially prompted many RVers to cancel reservations or postpone making reservations for the current winter season, many have decided to come to Texas anyway.
“They’ve come down here because they realize it’s cheaper to stay here than stay home in a house surrounded by six feet of snow,” said Mac McLaughlin, owner of Hatch RV Park in Corpus Christi, citing the rising cost of natural gas and other fuels.
McLaughlin said his 129-site park is filled with Winter Texans. “We are slammed right now,” he said. “They have us covered up. And we’re taking lots of reservations for February and March.”
Craig said business remains strong because growing numbers of retirees see RVing as a more practical winter vacation option than renting a condo or taking a cruise or a trip overseas.
Craig’s bullish outlook on the Winter Texan business is fueled in part by her advance reservations. Many of her existing guests at Rayford Crossing have already booked reservations, not only for 2010, but 2011. Demand is so strong, she said, that she is expanding Timber Ridge park to 57 sites this spring.
McLaughlin said Texas parks also continue to be more affordable than parks in other Sunbelt destinations, such as Florida and Arizona, which makes Texas an appealing place to spend the winter.
“We are pleased with our business levels,” said Carolyn Brown of Boone RV Park in Lampasas in Central Texas, though she is seeing fewer overnight travelers and more RVers seeking monthly accommodations, including park models.
Brown said her park is typically busiest in March and April, when warm weather prompts Winter Texans from the Rio Grande Valley to move northward to parks in Central Texas before making their trip back home.