Snowbirds Flocking to Florida Parks Once Again

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November 18, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Retirees Sharon and Richard Lee have been snowbirds staying at Bulow Plantation RV Resort in Flagler Beach, Fla., from near Utica in central New York for the past six years.

"When I retired, I told my husband I did not want to see snow ever again," Sharon Lee told the Daytona Beach News-Journal while enjoying a basket-making class Monday (Nov. 15) at the park's recreation center. "It's a great social life. We have more friends down here than we do in New York. And this area is so centrally located. You can go anywhere in the state in one day from here. It's all about Flagler Beach."

It seems many more Northerners have the same thoughts.

According to a recent report from the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, snowbird reservations for long-term stays are up in the Sunshine State compared to the same time last year. The same is true in Texas, Arizona and California. In the Volusia-Flagler area, RV park operators say they are slightly up or even with last year, so far.

"Reservations may vary from area to area, but generally they are up or on par with last year, which was not a great year because of the cold," said Bobby Cornwell, the association's executive director in Tallahassee. "Some places like Southwest Florida, Fort Myers, are more impacted by snowbird trends while other places like Daytona Beach are more influenced by special events like NASCAR and motorcycles."

The small rise in snowbird activity may be another sign of better economic times ahead as consumer confidence improves and snowbirds, especially Northerners renting condos or using an RV for extended campground stays, hit the open road, Cornwell said.

Snowbirds are not the top moneymakers for local campgrounds and businesses, including grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and retail shops. But they are an important economic element through the slower months of late fall and winter before Speed Weeks roll around in February to start the heavy events calendar, which is the top moneymaker.

"The snowbird season starts in October and then we see an influx right after Thanksgiving," said Greg Jones, manager of the Sunshine Holiday Daytona RV Resort in Ormond Beach. "Then the park really fills up with race fans and bikers during the special events,"

Reservations are about the same as last year for the longer-staying guests, but reservations for the January through March period are ahead of pace, Jones said.

The season has gotten off to a good start with some snowbirds already here due to early cold in Canada.

"The weather is a key factor when they first arrive," Jones said. "We have the weather on the TV here all the time and if it's cold up north, we start calling our regulars and seeing when they might be coming down. Last year was brutal. Really cold. We don't know how that will play out this year."

Jeff Conner, Bulow's manager, said some regular snowbird campers in Volusia and Flagler counties may be looking further south because of last year's record cold spells in January in the two-county area.

"We have some early arrivals, but our rolling-stock reservations, those long-term snowbirds, are down just slightly, I'd say 3%," he said. "But, so far, we are ahead of where we were last year for weekend transients, people who just drive in or call a day or two ahead. Many will stay a couple days or weeks and then head further south later in the winter and maybe stop in again as they head back north in March and April."

Snowbird reservations are up about 10% at Daytona KOA, manager Wendy Bittner said. The park ran a successful summer special — stay two nights and get a third night free — and has continued it into the fall to lure in new guests.

"We're having the best reservations for winter we've had in a couple of years," Bittner said.

The oceanfront Beverly Beach Camptown RV Resort reported winter reservations are on par with last year, which were down because of the recession, resort representative Ingrid Backley said.

But the recession hasn't stopped Massachusetts retirees Dick and Carol Alvarnaz from coming to Bulow Plantation RV Resort for the past five years.

"We're on a fixed income and the economy has cut into the travel we do, but not (for) coming here," Dick Alvarnaz said.

The couple spends about $700 getting to Florida, driving a diesel-fueled pickup pulling a fifth-wheel and a sedan pulling a trailer with a motorcycle.

"Gas would have to get maybe $6 or $7 a gallon to make us rethink coming down, but the economy may have influenced some others. The park seems a little emptier than it has been," Alvarnaz said.

One businessman is counting on recreational vehicle owners growing and continuing to come to the area for the winter and special events. Two months ago, Gus Spreng converted about 10 acres along South Nova Road in South Daytona from on-site equipment and material storage into the 86-space South Daytona RV Park & Tropical Garden.

He had 25 guests during Biketoberfest, with no advanced advertising, and is getting "good responses" from the park's website with reservations for the Thanksgiving weekend.

"I wouldn't do this if I did not expect to make money. That's what being in business is about," Spreng said.

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