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Group Wants Winter Texans Back in Valley

September 15, 2014 by · Comments Off on Group Wants Winter Texans Back in Valley 

RV park managers who are seeing fewer Winter Texans returning to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas are banding together with a plan, the Valley Morning Star of Harlingen reported.

John Dearinger, whose wife, Ruth, is the manager at VIP La Feria RV Park, said the decline hasn’t been severe, but it has been noticeable.

“We’re trying to send out postcards to just the ones that have been here in the past,” he said. But the park is also using Facebook and its own website.

Dearinger is part of a growing movement that is looking for new and innovative ways to promote the valley to potential Winter Texans.

The Rio Grande Valley (RGV) Partnership in Weslaco held a meeting earlier this month to address the problem of decreasing numbers of Winter Texans in the valley. About 25 park managers attended.

They discussed using satellite radio, major airports, travel shows, social media and the Internet to bring more Winter Texans. The aim of the promotional campaign is to reenergize marketing strategies.

Julian Alvarez, president and CEO of the RGV Part-nership, said a number of initiatives are in the works.

For the full story, click here.

Rio Grande Valley Ponders Tourism Drop

February 20, 2013 by · Comments Off on Rio Grande Valley Ponders Tourism Drop 

RV Parks located along the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas are feeling the effects of multiple factors that are cutting into the tourism business this winter.

A tough economy that has shrunk retirement nest eggs has helped cut the number of snowbirds in the Rio Grande Valley this year, Winter Texans said Monday.

Meanwhile, younger retirees in northern states are not spending their golden years on RVs bound for the Sunbelt, they said.

Managers at Park Place Estates RV Resort in Harlingen and First Colony Mobile and RV Park in San Benito said occupancy is down nearly 50% during the winter’s peak months, according to The Coastal Current.

“We’re down all the way around compared to other years,” First Colony’s manager Sally Richardson said about the park where 75 of 149 sites are occupied. “I think other parks are in the same boat. We’re not doing the business this year as we did in the past.”

Researchers at the University of Texas-Pan American are asking Winter Texans to take a new online survey to determine why a newly released bi-annual study shows numbers dropped from a record of 144,000 in 2009-10 to 133,000 in 2011-12. Click here to view the survey.

But the researchers also want to know why younger retirees are not coming here, Penny Simpson, director of the university’s Valley Markets and Tourism Research Center, said.

“The big question is the Baby Boomers and why they’re not traveling or wintering like their parents,” Simpson said.

As the number of Winter Texans dropped, Simpson said, so did their buying power, falling from $803 million in 2009-10 to $751 million in 2011-12.

It’s the first time the university is asking Winter Texans to participate in an online survey, she said.

“It’s designed to find out what they think about the Valley and their park, specifically,” Simpson said. “We want to know what they like in the parks and how we can make changes at the parks to make sure we’re accommodating the needs and wants of the current and future Winter Texans.”

Winter Texans are aging and younger retirees are not replacing them, Simpson said.

The university’s new study shows Winter Texans’ average age has continued to climb, reaching 71.2 years last year, Simpson said.

Winter Texans’ Comments

The drop in occupancy numbers is big news at Valley parks, Winter Texans said.

“You look at some parks and you see quite a few empty lots, which were full when we first came down,” said Regina McInervey, a retired economic development officer from Mokena, Ill., who has wintered at Bit-O-Heaven RV and Mobile Home Park in Donna since 2004.

“I think people are dying off and the younger ones don’t seem to be coming down because they’re working longer,” McInervey said.

Jan Stumbo, a retired print shop worker from Boone, Iowa, said many retirees are not returning to the Valley because they lost much of their retirement nest eggs during the recession.

“My parents came down here and that’s one reason we’re down here,” said Stumbo, who has wintered at Park Place since 2010. “But my son says, ‘I’ll never retire at 65. I’ll work til I’m 75.’”

The Valley’s RV parks offer good amenities and plenty of activities to at-tract retirees to the area, Stumbo said.

“There’s more than enough to do around here,” she said.

But Doris Croasmun said younger retirees stay away from traditional park activities like arts and crafts workshops.

“The younger people seem to be more into going places and seeing things like concerts,” said Croasmun, a housewife from Struthers, Ohio, who has wintered at Park Place since 1995. “They don’t learn crafts from their parents and grandparents. They haven’t picked up on a lot of things we enjoy doing.”

Attendance dropped from 1,800 last year to 2,000 at the Rio Grande Valley Wood Carvers Show in San Juan last month, said Barbara Humphrey, a registered nurse from Illinois who first came to the Valley in 1997.

Humphrey said younger retirees are not spending their winters in RVs.

“The Baby Boomers are afraid to get out and adventure because they don’t have the money,” said Humphrey, another winter resident at Bit-O-Heaven. “They’re used to everything being upscale and high-tech so they stay home.”

The fear of Mexico’s drug violence spilling into the Valley may have kept other retirees away this year, Humphrey said.

“I’m scared to go to Mexico now,” she said. “People might be scared of the Valley.”

High gas prices may have contributed to keeping some retirees home this year, Bruce Nordin, a retired paper factory worker, said. Nordin, who spends the winter at Park Place Estates, said it costs him about $2,400 to drive his RV to and from Cloquet, Minn.

“Times are tough up north — tougher than they are here,” Nordin said as he worked on a wood carving at Park Place’s recreation building.

McInervey said Valley tourism officials should put more marketing dollars in RV trade magazines to attract more retirees from northern states.

“I haven’t seen the ads from here,” McInervey said. “I think the Valley really should advertise. (The cost of living) is so reasonable down here.”

Simpson said budget cuts may have led to a reduction in advertizing aimed at northern markets.

Courtney Junkin, events coordinator at the Harlingen Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the agency advertises in northern markets to attract the next generation of retirees.

She referred further questions to agency Marketing Director Sonny Martinez, who was out of the office and unavailable for comment Monday, she said.

 

Rio Grande Valley Braces for Big Season

October 8, 2012 by · Comments Off on Rio Grande Valley Braces for Big Season 

The counties in red at the southern tip of Texas constitute the prime vacation areas in the Rio Grande Valley. Map courtesy of Wikipedia.

Mobile home and RV park operators in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas say all indications point to a successful year for Winter Texan visitors.

At South Padre Island, there’s been a 10 percent increase in the number of inquiries from prospective Winter Texans, Lacey Ekberg, the Convention & Visitors Bureau director, told The Monitor, McAllen. The CVB has received 5,000 to 6,000 calls per month since July, with most of those calls coming from the Midwest and northern states, including Illinois, Ohio and Minnesota.

“Given the number of inquiries, we do not expect less Winter Texan visitors than the previous year,” Ekberg said.

Some parks are able to get a hint of the coming season’s success based on previous year park residents who take advantage of “early bird” discounts, or make their reservations far in advance of their return.

Fun N Sun RV Resort in San Benito, for example, offers a rate of $75 for the month of October, park spokeswoman Janie Paz said.

Paradise Park RV Resort, in Harlingen last year offered a 5 percent “Early Bird Special” discount for some visitors who paid by June for the next winter. Other parks’ discount offers vary from year to year.

Winter Texans are big business in the Valley, injecting millions of dollars into the local economy every year. For the 2011-2012 season, Winter Texans had a $751 million direct economic impact on the Valley economy, according to statistics compiled by the Valley Markets and Tourism Research Center at the University of Texas-Pan American.

Winter Texans usually begin showing up in the Valley around Oct. 1, said Penny Simpson, a UTPA professor of marketing and associate dean of the College of Business Administration and director of the Valley Markets and Tourism Research Center.

“It’s just a trickle in October,” she said of the annual migration of retirees. “When they come is tied to the weather. The health of the retirees also determines whether they will return to the Valley each year.”

Visits by retirees from northern states and Canada dropped sharply after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, but eventually returned to nearly the levels of earlier years. A biannual survey by UTPA this January showed some drop in numbers of Winter Texans in a January count of seasonal visitors from two years ago.

Simpson said 133,400 Winter Texans came to the Valley last winter compared with 144,000 two years earlier.

Worries about terrorism incidents along the border play into the decision to return to the Valley each year, she said.

Paradise Park Mobile Home Park in Harlingen has 255 mobile home sites and 295 recreational vehicle sites, office manager Christine Henderson said.

Some Winter Texans who have visited the Valley for several winters will stay longer and some make the Valley their home base and visit their northern homes during warmer months, she said.

“We have quite a few people that are annual but stay year-round. But then we have those that are annuals but they are only here for X amount of months and then they go back home,” she said.

While some retirees claim they are no longer Winter Texans because they live in the Valley most of the year, they still go back home to visit family during the hottest months of summer, she said.

“They’re all Winter Texans to me,” she said, laughing.

In recent years, with soaring fuel prices, more retirees are choosing to leave their RVs in the Valley, Henderson said. Paradise Park has a designated storage area for RVs that are not in use.

At Sunshine RV Park in Harlingen, workers have been replacing sod and making other repairs and preparations for Winter Texans who will soon arrive.

Manager Lon Huff said Winter Texans are attracted to the Valley by the many species of birds and proudly showed a small lake at his park where black-bellied whistling ducks, swans and roseate spoonbills congregated.

Huff said his park’s numbers don’t support UTPA’s statistics of declining numbers of Winter Texans.

“The years of 2010 and 2011 for us were extremely good years,” he said.

Violence in Mexico and high gas prices have not greatly affected the numbers of people wintering at Sunshine RV Park, Huff said.

Baby boomers are an increasing presence in the Winter Texan community, Huff said, adding that there’s a “pretty big” contingent of 55-year-old Canadians at his park.

The number of retirees who stay for six months each winter has been increasing each year he has worked at Sunshine RV Park, Huff said. Some owners of park models and mobile homes have added patios, storage buildings and other facilities, as evidence of their longer visits.

 

Economy Isn’t Slowing ‘Winter Texan’ Influx

October 19, 2010 by · Comments Off on Economy Isn’t Slowing ‘Winter Texan’ Influx 

Returning Winter Texans Bill and Judy Zorrer are not letting the national economic slowdown and reports of border violence in Mexico affect their plans to travel to the Rio Grande Valley this winter, the Brownsville Herald reported.

“It’s something that appears very scary on the news,” Bill said about reports of kidnappings and shootings. “But we feel that (Nuevo) Progreso is still relatively safe.”

The Zorrers have made the Fun N Sun RV Resort in San Benito their winter home for the past three years. This year they plan to stay in the Valley until April.

“We sold our home and travel for a living now,” he said. “We can’t let the economy or anything else get in the way of the way we live our lives.”

They said that when they go to Mexico, they make sure to travel in a large group and only travel during daylight hours.

“To tell you the truth, (low) prices are what keep us going to (Nuevo) Progreso,” Bill said.

Fun N Sun office manager Bethlee Huff said she receives many calls from Winter Texans who are concerned about travel to Mexico and the safety of the park. Still, the park’s daily count sheet states that 280 RVs have arrived there so far this season, a number that is on track with other years.

“We don’t promote travel to Mexico,” Huff said. “But a lot of people call and ask us about the state of the border. Ultimately, they do end up going to Nuevo Progreso, because many Winter Texas have gone without any problems.”

Huff explained that Winter Texans arrive daily; many of them have taken part in the early bird special, which entices the Winter Texans to arrive early and stay later, at reduced rates.

“To qualify for the early bird, they must have booked by the end of March the previous season, and spend four or more months at the park,” Huff said.

Fun N Sun’s discount is $75 for October, compared to the park’s regular price of $362, Huff said. It also charges $99 for November and April, she said, adding that the regular price for those months is $469 and $428, respectively. The prices include water, cable TV plus the park’s amenities.

In Harlingen, Paradise Park manager Dan Pearson said he expects about 1,000 Winter Texans and 500 RVs to return this year, a number that is holding steady with the previous year.

“Winter Texans aren’t greatly affected by the economy like other groups,” Pearson said. “A lot of them have pensions, or money saved up.”

Pearson also supported the attitude that despite border violence, Winter Texans will still migrate here when the weather turns frosty in northern states.

“There really is no competing with the Valley,” Pearson said. “The climate in Florida is basically the same, and for a couple of thousand dollars cheaper, Winter Texans can come and enjoy all the Valley has to offer.”

Penny Simpson, head of the Valley Markets and Tourism Research Center at the University of Texas-Pan American, believes that the number of Winter Texans staying in the Valley will continue to grow, unless an unforeseen national tragedy occurs.

“The only time Winter Texan numbers have diminished was after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11,” Simpson said. “The effect border violence will play in their decision to visit the Valley is not available yet, but it will be interesting to know if it’s going to play a role.”

Simpson has been researching the impact of Winter Texans on the Valley since 1986, and according to her findings, an estimated 144,000 Winter Texans pumped a total of $802.5 million into the Valley’s economy, during the 2009 season.

Simpson’s 1986 study found that a total of 77,000 Winter Texans were present that year and that each Winter Texan household spent an average of $2,500 during their stay.

Twenty-one years later, for the 2009 season, Simpson reported that the average household spent $10,700 during the winter season.

Huff and Pearson both cited gas prices as a concern for some returning Winter Texans. As a result, last year Fun N Sun kept an estimated 82 RVs in storage and Paradise Park held 30, the park managers said.

The spike in gas prices, which averaged around $4 per gallon in 2008, made it more economical for some Winter Texans to leave their RVs here, rather than tow them to their summer homes, Huff and Pearson said.

“During the gas crunch of 2008, many Winter Texans opted to leave their RVs in storage, because gas prices were incredibly high,” Huff said. “But if gas prices stay the way they are now, we won’t be seeing that in the coming year.”

For Donald and Barbara Seiwald, the choice to leave their RV behind last season was purely for convenience.

“We won’t be driving to the Valley until later this week,” Barbara Seiwald said from her home in Independence, Mo. “This is our fifth year leaving our RV at Sun N Fun, and it’s just a lot easier not having to worry about the drive, especially for older individuals like ourselves.”

She said that when they arrive, their RV would be sitting in their lot, prepped and ready for them.

“It saves us a lot of time and effort,” she said.

Driving from Urbana, Ohio, Judy and Kenneth Batterton said their return to the Valley took two days.

Judy Batterton said that this was their second year in the Valley and that hospitality and friendliness brought them back.

“The Valley and Florida are fairly similar,” she said. “But Floridians aren’t as friendly as Texans.”

The Battertons arrived only days after the Valley made national headlines when a Mexican investigator’s head was delivered in a suitcase to the Mexican military in Miguel Aleman. The investigator was looking into the disappearance of David Hartley, a case that has attracted national attention.

“That’s horrible,” Judy Batterton said. “We weren’t aware of the new developments in that case, but we still believe that traveling to specific parts of Mexico, like (Nuevo) Progreso is safe.”

Still, some Winter Texans like Jan Valdenna, who has been coming to the Valley with her husband Chuck since 1995, are concerned about traveling to Mexico.

“I will not be going as much,” Jan said. “It’s really unfortunate, because Mexico is such a beautiful place. I know couples limit their time in Mexico due to the violence.”

Huff and Pearson both expect the number of returning Winter Texans to remain strong and predict December through March to be peak season.

“They’re rolling in on a daily basis,” Huff said. “And that’s going to continue until we reach our peak.”

Wireless Internet Demanded by Winter Texans

March 25, 2010 by · Comments Off on Wireless Internet Demanded by Winter Texans 

Editor’s Note: As the 2009-2010 winter vacation season winds down, The Valley Town Crier, McAllen, Texas, asked some local experts on Winter Texans in the Rio Grande Valley to share their insights on new trends among the annual visitors.

Kristi Collier is a columnist who knows about Winter Texans. Her company, Welcome Home RGV, is known as the self-proclaimed chamber of commerce for Winter Texans.

“I’ve worked with Winter Texans for 13 years,” Collier said. “I’ve put together a little directory for Winter Texans and some coupon books.” Collier began her quest serving Winter Texans because she wanted to inform them about the different activities that take place around the Rio Grande Valley. Activities, she said that “thousands of Winter Texans weren’t aware of.”

“There’s a real need for a directory because a lot of them come down here clueless,” Collier said. “They don’t know anything about the Valley. We have a directory that’s Valleywide.”

Businesses across the Valley and across the border are anxious to tap into the Winter Texan market. The 2008 Winter Texan Report by the University of Texas-Pan American found that the average Winter Texan household spends about $9,555 during a typical stay in the Valley.

One of the ways Collier has been able to keep up with all the different trends that Winter Texans are rolling with, is her active participation in their communities.On a recent bike trip for example, she took them across the Rio Grande River via the Los Ebanos Ferry and they’re first stop was a bar.

“The typical Winter Texan is the little old lady driving 10 mph down the highway,” said Collier about what the natives seem to think about Winter Texans. “Well the Baby Boomers are retiring and a lot of them have been exposed to the Valley because they’re parents wintered here and so we’re finding that there is a shift in the typical Winter Texan.”

Collier also explained that Winter Texans are a lot younger, they have a lot more money and they’re not afraid to spend it.

“The older ones, who a lot of them lived through the depression, they save everything and they’re not real spenders,” Collier said.

Cory Reed, park manager for Citrus Mobile Park in Edinburg, said that one of the new trends she is seeing is that Winter Texans are leaving much sooner than usual.

“The younger Winter Texans are more transit,” Reed said. “They dont’ stay as long and they move around more. I’ve had a lot of people that have left already.”

Another thing that Winter Texans have told her is that if there is no wireless Internet connection at the park, they are going to look for somewhere else to stay.

“Something that we haven’t had to deal with before is that they all have to have their wireless Internet,” Reed said. “It’s an important feature for the park. I’ve had several people tell me they’re not going to come back next year if we don’t get it fixed.”

Because some people are only staying for two months, they’ve had to turn away people who might have stayed for four months.

“I foresee at some point we’re going to have to redo our rent structure,” Reed said.

Rod Graham is the webmaster of the Winter Texan Connection and he has also noticed that Winter Texans are younger and are a bit more computer savvy so he created his website to help people learn about what’s going on in the Rio Grande Valley.

“It seems as though that more (people) are retiring from blue collar jobs and are coming down,” Graham said. “Where as 10 years ago you could just about say that the majority of Winter Texans retired from farming. Now we’re seeing a lot more coming from office jobs and things like that.”

The 2008 UTPA study reported that the average Winter Texan household income is around $50,000 with 69% of respondents’ incomes falling in the $20,000 to $60,000 range.

Another thing that Graham has noticed with the larger RV parks in the Rio Grande Valley is that there isn’t a decline in business.

“They’re (RV parks) not saying they’re (Winter Texans) not coming,” Graham explained. “RV Parks are saying they’re full.”

Graham also notices that more and more Winter Texans are buying property here and flying back and forth instead of driving back year after year.

“Over the last 10 years it’s been RRV after RV on the road,” Graham said. “It seems as if they’re buying mobile homes in the parks, either have a car or have a car back here and fly back and forth.”

On average, a typical Winter Texan has been coming to the Valley for 9.1 years, and stays for around 4.2 months, UTPA reported.

Whether it’s a bar where every hour is happy hour or just relaxing on a golf course one thing is for sure, Winter Texans are here to stay four months out of the year and they’ll keep coming back because of people like Collier and Graham who make they’re stay perfect.

35% of ‘Winter Texans’ to Lengthen Their Stay

February 9, 2010 by · Comments Off on 35% of ‘Winter Texans’ to Lengthen Their Stay 

TACO logo (new)An online survey by Texas Campgrounds.com has confirmed what many park operators are reporting: There are more Snow Birds or “Winter Texans: this winter than last winter, and they’re staying longer, according to a news release.

The survey found that 52% of Winter Texans plan to spend as much time wintering in Texas as they did last winter, while 35% plan to stay even longer. Only 13% of respondents were planning shorter stays, according to the online survey, which drew 1,250 responses in December and January.

“I was impressed with the fact that 87% of Winter Texans plan to spend as much time or longer wintering in Texas than last year,” said Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), which markets campgrounds, RV parks and resorts through TexasCampgrounds.com and TexasCabinRentals.net.

“I think you can attribute a lot of those longer stays to some bounceback in the economy,” he said, adding that colder than normal weather in Texas and other areas across the Sunbelt hasn’t deterred retirees from coming to the Lone Star State because it’s a lot colder up North. “All temperatures being equal,” Schaeffer said, “50 is 50 and 5 is 5.”

But the survey also revealed that many Winter Texans are cutting back other expenses in an effort to spend the winter in Texas. In fact, 37% of respondents said they were cutting expenses because their income had been reduced, while 52% said their income was the same as it was last winter. Eleven percent of respondents said their income had increased.

The survey also produced some unexpected findings, namely, that only a fraction of Winter Texans spend the season in the Rio Grande Valley. According to the survey, 39% of Winter Texans spend the season in the Hill County, with another 38% staying in parks along the Gulf Coast. Only 24% of respondents said they spend the winter in the Rio Grande Valley.

“This survey pretty much shatters the stereotype of where people spend the winter in Texas,” Schaeffer said. “It also suggests that younger winter visitors are coming into Texas and they’re exploring other areas of the state.” In fact, the survey found that only 26% of respondents planned to stay at one park for the whole season, with 74% of winter visitors planning to travel from one park to another throughout the winter season.

“This survey shows that ‘Winter Texans’ are much more mobile than they were in the past,” Schaeffer said. “This is a group that often travels and is increasingly spontaneous about where they go and how long they stay at each park.”

Here’s what the survey showed regarding advance reservations:

  • 31% book all of their reservations in advance.
  • 37% book part of their winter stay with reservations, and leave time open to travel to parks in other areas as they see fit.
  • 32% never make advanced reservations.

And while 47% of Winter Texans spend all of their time in Texas, 53% also visit other states at some point during the winter. Here’s a closer look at those numbers:

  • 27% spend most of their time in Texas, but also travel to surrounding states.
  • 26% spend some of their time in Texas and also travel to surrounding states.

With regard to the length of their winter stay in Texas, the survey produced the following statistics:

  • 15% planned to stay three to four weeks.
  • 40% planned to stay one to two months.
  • 13% planned to stay three to four months.
  • 25% planned to stay six months or longer.

The survey also found that 60% of Winter Texans arrive after Christmas, 13% coming between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and 27%  arrive sometime in the fall before Thanksgiving.

In terms of their RV accommodations, the survey found that Winter Texans use the following types of equipment:

  • 45% spend the winter in a travel trailer or fifth-wheel.
  • 43% spend the winter in a motorhome.
  • 12% spend the winter in a recreational park trailer or “park model” and use a car to travel to other locations.

Singers Find Purpose in Rio Grande Valley Parks

February 1, 2010 by · Comments Off on Singers Find Purpose in Rio Grande Valley Parks 

Don Lewis meets brothers in every major American city.

Lewis, a 76-year-old retired General Motors superintendent, has lived in Chicago, St. Petersburg, Fla., and now the Rio Grande Valley of South texas. He moves to these places and a week later he finds his brothers, according to the McAllen Monitor.

Lewis counts himself among a classic, American musical fraternity – the Barbershop Harmony Society. He has sung barbershop for more than 40 years, and he began spending winters in Mission six years ago. Less than one week after his arrival, he joined a local barbershop singing group. He joined the Men of A-Chord.

“I show up somewhere and two days later I’m at the barbershop rehearsal, I’m singing and they know that I’m a barbershopper,” Lewis said.

About 30,000 American men participate in barbershop singing, according to a 2007 estimate by the Barbershop Harmony Society. Many of the Valley’s retired seasonal visitors from the north also sing barbershop. Men of A-Chord ranks as the largest group with a roster that tops 70. There are two other barbershop groups in South Texas — The Senior Ambassadors and The Sweet Adelines.

Men of A-Chord began about 15 years ago, said Dennis Bush, another member of the group. They perform about 10 times each year, usually in RV parks. They wear a signature costume of black bowties and red sweater vests.

“We’re not professionals by any stretch of the imagination, but we usually get a good crowd of people at the Winter Texan parks,” Bush said.

Men of A-Chord entertain with more than signing. Each performance includes dialogue, comedy and even a costume change. This year, half way through the show the group swaps the vests for sailor suits.

On Jan. 10, they gave their first concert of 2010. They sang at Southern Comfort, an RV park in Weslaco, and Lewis said the crowd loved it.

“We couldn’t get out afterwards,” he said. “The people all wanted to tell us how much they enjoyed it.”

The singers enjoyed it, too.

They appreciate the reaction from the crowd, of course. Camaraderie, however, ranks as the most rewarding result of the show. And group leaders said that’s likely why membership has swelled this year for the Men of A-Chord.

“We have so many new guys coming in that we can hardly keep track of them. It’s a challenge,” Lewis said. “At least a dozen or 10, I don’t even know who they are because they are brand new.”

The group’s average member age is 73, and many of the guys have sung their whole lives. Some have just discovered the passion. No matter how they found the past time, the Men of A-Chord give them a hearty welcome.

“Every time we get a new guy, we stand him up front and we shake with him until his hand is all worn out,” he said.

After the rigorous arm pumping, the man faces the group. He is greeted by this song:

You’re as welcome as the flowers in May.

Come along and sing your cares away.

Here’s a hand to welcome you and say.

You’re as welcome as the flowers in May.

Lewis partially attributes the swelling membership to the all-inclusive attitude. And, of course, the appeal of barbershop.

“You’ll enjoy it every day that you do it,” he said. “You never get too old to sing.”

South Texas Tourist Sites Market to RV Parks

November 18, 2009 by · Comments Off on South Texas Tourist Sites Market to RV Parks 

Breakayar_logoThe couple, perhaps emboldened by the beer that had been flowing all morning since leaving port, danced to “Is Anybody Going to San Antone?” in the only space on the top deck not occupied by other “Winter Texans.” They all were merrily enduring sunburn for a complimentary dolphin watch tour, courtesy of Breakaway Cruises of South Padre Island.

Morgan Taylor aims to make it an annual event: a free cruise for Rio Grande Valley RV park managers and activity directors who, ideally, will remember Breakaway when it comes to planning activities for the armies of Winter Texans who descend on Valley RV parks each winter with loads of time on their hands and voracious appetites for fun, according to The Herald, Brownwsville.

“Really, to me, it’s a way of showing appreciation for them coming back year after year,” says Taylor, Breakaway’s sales and marketing manager. “This is just something I felt was really important.”

It’s savvy marketing, too. A day of dolphin spotting, glorious weather, free beer, complimentary shrimp from Schlitterbahn’s Shrimp Haus — even a shipboard version of “Let’s Make a Deal” — is bound to make a lasting impression on even the most world-weary Winter Texan.

Dave and Julia Bachtell, newly minted retirees from Burlington, Iowa, took in the four-hour tour from the boat’s shady lower deck. The Bachtells, who help out with activity planning at Big Valley RV park in Donna, call a fifth-wheel “home” and are in South Texas for a six-month stay.

“This is our second year in the Valley,” says Dave. “We retired last year and spent last winter down here, and decided it’s so nice we’re going to come back.”

The Bachtells were looking forward to their first dolphin tour as the crew made preparations to shove off. Back in port four hours later, they’d seen dolphins and shrimp trawlers up close, steamed up and down the Brownsville ship channel and absorbed informational tidbits courtesy of tour guide and biologist Capt. Jim White. The couple wasn’t disappointed. Julia, who swears she could eat seafood seven days a week, three times a day despite her Iowa roots, says she’ll recommend the cruise to fellow RVers.

“They lined up a fabulous tour,” she says.

Charles Casterline and his wife, Diane, spent a good part of the cruise on the top deck, chatting with fellow retirees in the sea breeze. The Casterlines, from Minnesota, are inching closer every year to becoming “converts” — permanent transplants. Their winter home is the Rod n Reel RV Court in Brownsville. The Casterlines are old hands at Winter Texas-ing.

“This is our second time on this particular cruise,” Charles says. “There’s a dolphin right there next to us, by the way.”

He’s better known to many as “Cactus Willie,” leader of a three-piece touring band called the Cowboy & Hobo Show. In fact, it was Casterline’s voice — uncannily similar to Willie Nelson’s — floating from the boat’s speakers during the tour. The group plays a circuit that runs from Minnesota to Branson, Mo., to South Texas, where they’re a big hit at the RV parks. They also host a winter variety show in Brownsville: the Cowboy & Hobo Country Show.

“We’ll be going from here, usually back to Minnesota,” Casterline says. “Sometimes we’ll do shows in Branson on our way north. We’ve done that two years in a row. This year I’m planning on staying a little longer down here because I enjoy it down in the Valley. I really do.”

“And we have a nice new place here, so we want to be able to stay here,” Diane says. “We absolutely love Brownsville.”

Breakaway hired a marketing firm, Welcome Home Rio Grande Valley, to set up the tour. Taylor describes the company as “the chamber of commerce for our Winter Texans.” Welcome Home is the brainchild of Kristi Collier, a McAllen native who has cultivated contacts with activity and tour directors at Valley retirement park communities for more than a decade.

“We partnered with Kristi to get the word out, particularly to the (retirees) in the Upper Valley that maybe wouldn’t come down to the Lower Valley,” Taylor says. “We want to get them out here and show them that we’ve got some fantastic activities and that we’re really excited that the Winter Texans are here. They’re a valuable part of our economy during this time of year.”

The dolphin tour is the type of targeted, “event-based” marketing Collier specializes in. Whether it’s a tour, a restaurant grand opening or some other happening, the target is Winter Texans, converts — even retired native Texans 55 and older.

“It’s bringing marketing to a very personal level,” she says. “That’s what I enjoy so much.”

It’s a market that’s often taken for granted, Collier adds.

“It’s what frustrates me so much about the Valley,” she says. “If we don’t nurture those relationships and say ‘Thank you guys for being here,’ we might very well lose that business.”

Faye Hackworth, a retiree from Jackson, Mich., is wintering this year at the Monte Cristo Golf Course and RV Resort in Edinburg with her husband, Jerry, and their teacup poodle, Peewee. All three were on the cruise. The Hackworths, on their fourth pilgrimage to South Texas, naturally fall into the role of “welcoming committee” wherever they go. Since they spend a considerable time seeking out fun in the Valley, they’ve got plenty of suggestions for things to do. Faye says she would definitely recommend the dolphin tour.

“It was a very informative trip — enjoyable, too,” she says. “We had a good time. We just like to meet new people. Every time you meet somebody new you’re always learning something.”

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