Snowbird Occupancy at Yuma Parks Down
Sandy Mace counts her RV park in Yuma, Ariz., as one of the fortunate ones.
Mace said Villa Alameda RV Resort is small for a Yuma park at about 300 spaces, but it managed to hold steady for the winter visitor season – nearly full for the most part, in fact. She's heard around her RV park peers, though, that wasn't the case for everybody, the Yuma Sun reported.
“We were one of the luckier ones,” said Mace, an office manager at Villa Alameda on Avenue 5E.
She's certainly appreciative of the turnout – “We have no complaints.” But she's noticed something that's been trending lately: earlier farewells. Although Easter, a common season-closer for many, came at the end of March this year, Mace has seen people leaving for their northern homes sooner for at least the past couple of years, and she's not sure why.
“I cannot believe all the people that have left this early in the year.”
It was a similar story at another smaller park, OG RV Resort Park on West Eighth Street. Manager Debbie Saunders said her 146-space community doesn't have high turnover. (She credits word-of-mouth, resident-led activities and roomier individual spaces.) So while it's quiet now, at the peak of the season she was at 100%.
“We were completely full. I was turning away people.”
But Saunders was also hearing that not every park was as packed. RVers coming by to check out the park said they found other parks with more empty pads than usual.
And Saunders, too, has noticed for a few years now that people are headed to their summer homes sooner.
“Folks, especially our Canadian friends, are not staying quite as long as they could,” said Saunders, who is herself a seasonal resident from Washington state and has been at OG for eight seasons. She's headed back north in May.
“Most seasons end about mid-April or so, but a lot of them are going home now by the end of March.”
According to Yuma Stats, RV park occupancy was at least slightly down for the 2012-2013 winter visitor season.
In January and February, when part-timers historically reach their zenith, the parks were only about 81% and 86% full, respectively. In January 2012, the parks were 85% full; in February of last year, they were at about 91%. That's out of about 15,000 spaces around the region.
While the data doesn't explicitly equate RV parks with winter residents, recreational vehicles are a common abode for the visitors. According to a winter visitor survey by the Yuma Sun, some two-thirds of respondents live in an RV or mobile home park for the season.
Put another way, winter visitors are the bread and butter of RV parks. Villa Alameda, for example, has only about 20 year-round residents. OG has about seven.
Linda Jordan, executive director of the Yuma Visitors Bureau (YVB), said that in her conversations about town, she's also heard of a downward trend. The bureau currently lists 37 RV parks on its website.
“Pretty much everybody I've talked to have said that their numbers are down. People are staying a shorter amount of time, leaving earlier.”
The YVB doesn't track winter resident data now but will begin doing so next fiscal year. Jordan said there are all kinds of winter residents: Some are here six months, others three months, others just a few weeks. Some are closer to full-time, leaving only during the hottest parts of the year.
Although many live in RV parks, others rent apartments or houses, settle in at extended-stay lodging or own their Yuma homes or park models.
The YVB data would look at just the RV parks, on a monthly basis, to get an idea of occupancy, visitor origins, length of stay. The figures would be similar to those the bureau gathers on hotels in partnership with the Arizona Office of Tourism.
Jordan said she hopes to hone in on the “shoulder season” – that's the waxing, or, as we're at right now in April, the waning around the peak season – to see how she can extend the not quite off-season. She knows that every extra night in town is good for the Yuma economy.