In Arizona, High Gas Prices Stunt Snowbirds’ Travels
Winter visitors seem to be staying longer in Casa Grande, Ariz., this season, partially because high gas prices have kept them from moving around, TriValleyCentral.com reported.
According to three RV park managers in Casa Grande, located between Phoenix and Tucson, a number of factors are contributing to the prolonged stay of some.
“I’ve noticed a lot more people are staying longer,” said Sally Johnson, manager of Sundance 1 RV Resort on Thornton Road. “I’d say the cause is that gas prices are getting up there and the weather here is much nicer than back home.”
Wendell Johnson, general manager of Palm Creek Golf & RV Resort, agreed, saying, “Our longer stays are up 20 percent this year. They seem to be coming for longer periods of time — three to five months.”
Johnson attributed this phenomenon to rising gasoline prices and residents of his park embracing the community. “RVers are used to moving around and staying different places,” he said. “But gas has prohibited that this year. They seem to be staying here longer instead.
“One of the reasons our residents come to Casa Grande is for the small-town feel,” Johnson said. “The longer they stay, the more they become a part of the community.”
Casita Verde RV Resort manager Kathy Wallick noted that the Canadian visitors in her park — which she said is roughly half — are the most active. “The Canadians are great,” she said. “They want to be a part of everything in the park and in the community.”
The sense of community among winter visitors has been a growing trend, said Greater Casa Grande Chamber of Commerce CEO Helen Neuharth. “Our winter residents support our local businesses by spending money here, but they also have an overwhelming sense of community. They have been volunteering at the chamber more and more.”
Wallick said that while gas prices may be affecting winter visitors who come out in RVs, the media coverage has been making it worse. “Yes, the prices are going up, but when you hear about it all the time it just keeps reminding everyone.”
What worries Wallick, she said, is if the prices continue to rise. “What I’m concerned about is if the gas goes up as high as they say it will — up to $5 per gallon — what next season will be like.”
On the state level, the winter visitor population has been holding its own, said JoAnn Mickelson, executive director of the Arizona Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. “Most tell me that it’s just about the same as it was last year. It has been kind of stagnant this year — as far as how many people have made the trip out.
“The gasoline prices may be the No. 1 reason people are staying longer this season,” Mickelson said. “The part of the industry that has been hit the hardest in the down economy hasn’t been the parks; it’s been the RV dealers and manufacturers.”
Although the number of winter visitors coming out to Arizona this year may have reached a temporary plateau, they still have a major effect on the economy.
“NAU (Northern Arizona University) recently did a study on the whole industry,” she said. “Statewide, it represents $1.5 billion each year.”