Arizona Snowbird Business Dips Slightly
It's 50 degrees and rainy in eastern Washington and 70 degrees and sunny in Mesa, Ariz.
Retired accountant Becky McClure, at a sprightly 61 years old, can choose to either stay in the bitter, damp cold of Washington during the winter season or bask in the Valley of the Sun, she said.
As reported by the East Valley Tribune, McClure and her husband Jack, a retired chiropractor, said the miles they travel in their migration for a warmer climate were made all the more quickly due to rising gas prices.
"It's a consideration – we traveled half the miles," said McClure of the road trip that went from meandering along the way to a beeline for their home in Greenfield Village in Mesa.
There is little set up in the state to track the current comings and goings of snowbirds, or winter visitors. By all available accounts, their numbers so far in east Mesa have dipped, but not as much as expected given a national economy in turmoil and once-soaring fuel prices, according to numerous operators of winter visitor destinations.
The National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) reported this month that a volatile stock market, concerns about the economy and a 25% decline in the value of the Canadian dollar have deterred some winter visitors from returning to the region, but not all.
At Towerpoint RV Resort in Mesa, general manager Dan Martin said the drop in attendance, while marginal, has been noticeable. He oversees two sites with a combined 2,400 recreational park trailers and RV units, including the Goodlife RV Resort.
"I think things are slower than the last couple years," he said. "I'd say we're typically full or close to full, which is 10 open sites, but now we're sitting at around 75 or 80 open sites."
At a nearby property, the numbers have dipped slightly.
"We're down maybe 5%. But considering how it could be, it's not too bad at all," said Jim Beach, general manager of Mesa Spirit RV Resort.
Martin said out of about 1,200 units at each RV park, his site has 800 park trailers, which are located at the park year-round. He said even if winter visitors didn't come, the property owners would still have to pay.
On that reasoning alone, it makes sense that they would keep coming, he said.
"There is no major economic impact to us, but to the Valley there could be a negative impact," Martin said. He said in a normal year his sites average five cancellations, but this year that number jumped to about 20.
On the ground level, Martin said as far as he can tell the real loss has been in winter visitors' confidence.
Debbie Sipe, executive director of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC), said she agrees with Martin.
"Nobody seems to be committing to anything in advance," she said. "But once the time comes and the sky hasn't fallen, they're beginning to go through with their plans."
Despite the economic downturn, her state has not experienced a significant drop in the number of winter visitors.
"Everybody is saying Arizona is about on par with us and with last year, too," Sipe said.
Sipe said choosing whether to stay in colder climates or travel to warmer pastures might have been a forgone conclusion for many snowbirds – no matter the cost.
"They've already bought the RV. It's sitting in the driveway," said Sipe. "Once the temperature drops, they're on the road."