'Snowbird' Business Steady in Alabama

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February 4, 2009 by   - () Leave a Comment

It looked a month ago as if the sluggish economy might cause fewer Northern retirees than normal to winter on Alabama's beaches. Now, "snowbird" arrivals are picking up and may approach levels of recent years, according to tourism leaders, condo managers and recreational vehicle park owners.
"Some (condo) companies are down a little bit, most are 5% or less that are down, but there are some whose numbers are up," said Herb Malone, president of the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Slightly more than 15,000 snowbirds visited last winter, according to bureau data. That was about 500 fewer than the previous winter.
In a recent survey by the bureau, Meyer Real Estate reported a 70% occupancy rate at the properties it manages, which is typical during snowbird season. The Beach Club resort was about 70% full — again, similar to last year, according to the Mobile Press-Register.
Caribe Resort on Perdido Key, meanwhile, said revenue from winter guests was up 51% over last year.
The bureau reported Tuesday (Feb. 3) that it received a record number of visitors — 1,017 — stopping Monday at its Welcome Centers in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. Also, recent snowbird-centered events sponsored by the Tanger Outlets Center in Foley and the Mobile Convention and Visitors Bureau saw significant jumps in participation, Malone said.
Marie Curren, director of marketing and reservations for the Brett/Robinson company, said this week that occupancy of the 2,044 condos it manages was hovering just below 70%.
While economic woes haven't yet appeared to cut into Brett/Robinson's snowbird trade, Curren said, the company has taken steps to ensure against a worsening scene: "We've frozen rates for next year because there is some trepidation about the economy in 2010."
Bobby Cornwell, executive director for Alabama and Florida Associations of RV Parks and Campgrounds, said that many Alabama parks that belong to his group are reporting better business this year than last.
"We have a lot of parks and they're doing great," Cornwell said. "We really haven't been affected by the economic downturn."
Snowbirds often congregate with others from their home states, and leaders of those clubs have said that attendance had slumped a bit this year.
That has as much to do with aging and ailing members, though, as it does tumbling stocks or depleted pensions, said some club members.
"We're a little light this year," said Jerry Lindenmuth, who lives in Gulf Shores and serves as vice president of the Pennsylvania Snowbirds. "There's a little sickness, people get older."
Malone has no doubt that some snowbirds are sitting home for economic reasons, but said that some winter visitors who traditionally travel to southern Florida have come instead to the less-expensive Alabama coast.
"Where we've lost some due to the economy, we've picked up some because of the economy," Malone said.

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