Winter Texans Arriving; Mexican Violence Impact Uncertain
A tough economy, high gas prices and violence in Mexico didn’t stop RaNay Elm from driving to the Rio Grande Valley to join Winter Texans whose numbers rebounded to hit a record last year.
The Valley’s low cost of living helped lure her here, said Elm, a retired retail store manager from Topeka, Kan., who pulled into Fun N Sun RV Resort with her husband Marvin early this month to spend her first season as a Winter Texan, the Brownsville Herald reported.
“Price was a very big factor,” she said.
Winter Texans came to the Valley in record numbers last year after a decline that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, said Penny Simpson, a professor who researches tourism at the University of Texas-Pan American.
“We’re back up to the (pre-Sept. 11) level,” Simpson said.
But Mexico’s drug violence could cut numbers this year after news hit the Midwestern states that most Winter Texans call home, Simpson said.
Numbers hit a peak of 143,000, generating $329 million in 2001, before dropping off following the terror attacks that shocked the national economy, Simpson said. By 2005, numbers had fallen to 127,000.
But last year, 144,000 Winter Texans came to the Valley, setting a new record and pumping $802.5 million into the local economy, Simpson said.
“I think people are getting their confidence back,” she said.
Mexican Violence Hurts Some Parks
Lon Huff, the manager at Sunshine RV Resort in Harlingen, said this year’s numbers are up.
The park filled 89% of its 1,027 spaces last year, he said.
“We’re definitely ahead of last year, which was a very good year,” Huff said.
But at Country Sunshine RV Resort in Weslaco, Mexico’s violence is keeping some Winter Texans away, manager Melissa Cortez said.
This year, bookings are down about 30% at the park with 377 spaces, she said.
“My numbers are a bit down this season,” Cortez said. “The publicity we’re getting because of the Mexico issue has really hit us hard. A lot of them don’t know they can still go to Progreso and it’s OK.”
But violence across the border didn’t stop Don Carkner from his annual journey from Ontario, Canada.
“As long as they keep the violence in Mexico, that’s fine with me,” said Carkner, a retired military officer at Country Sunshine.
High gas prices have led many Winter Texans to drive down in their cars and rent RVs at the park, Cortez said.
“That’s a trend,” she said.
But gas prices didn’t stop Roy Ridlon from driving his 41-foot motorhome to Sunshine RV Resort in Harlingen.
From his home in Embarrass, Minn., about 30 miles from the Canadian border, it cost nearly $1,000 to fuel up for the trip, said Ridlon, a retired operating engineer.
“To heat your home in the Snowbelt would cost more than the drive down here,” Ridlon said.
Winter Texans Arriving Earlier
At Fun N Sun, Winter Texans like Elm are arriving earlier this year, Bonnie Dominguez, the park’s manager, said.
“We’ve had more residents come back earlier this year than years before,” she said. “I’m feeling we’re going to have a great year.”
Elm said she was enticed to leave for the Valley earlier after a cold autumn.
“It’s gotten colder faster in the North,” said Elm, who pulled into the park on Nov. 1. “We wanted to come down and get away from the cold.”
For Elm and Carkner, the Valley offered a lower cost of living than RV meccas they’ve visited in Florida and Arizona.
“Lots fees are cheaper,” Carkner said. “It’s about two-thirds the price of Florida.”
But violence in Mexico almost kept her away, Elm said.
“We hesitated. We almost didn’t come because of that,” she said. “But friends reassured us that the parks in this area are safe.”
Simpson said Mexico’s violence could cut the numbers of Winter Texans this year.
Last year, news of Mexico’s drug violence hadn’t hit hard in the Midwestern states before Winter Texans left for their annual pilgrimage to the Valley, she said.
But this year, the news has spread across the United States and Canada, she said.
“We really don’t know the impact yet,” Simpson said.