Arizona’s winter visitors are starting to trickle into the state this month, and senior communities that were summer ghost towns are coming back to life, according to a report in the Arizona Republic.
Last year, 300,000 visitors spent the winter in Arizona, dropping about $1 billion into the economy, according to Arizona State University’s Center for Business Research, even though 2003-04 marked the sixth consecutive season of overall decline in winter visitors to the state.
Many experts in the industry anticipate more business this year because of the hurricanes that ravaged Florida, while some winter visitors may be coming later than usual because of the presidential election.
But regardless of when they arrive, resorts are prepared, and many have spent the summer upgrading amenities to cater to the younger, more active winter visitors they’re starting to see as more Baby Boomers adopt the RV lifestyle.
The biggest impact on this year’s numbers may be exerted by Florida’s hurricanes, said Dan Austin, president of the Arizona Winter Visitors Association.
“I’ve probably had at least a couple of dozen calls within the last couple of weeks from people who have gone to Florida in the past and are no longer going back,” he said.
Craig Ahlstrom, president of Sunland Springs Village in Mesa, said there are usually waves of visitor arrivals at his adult community. The first is early fall, usually in October. The second is right after the first of the year.
“In an election year, we do see that first wave a little slower in coming out,” he said. But, he said, that shift is declining as absentee voting increases in popularity.
Ahlstrom said Arizona senior communities are also seeing increasing interest from the next generation of retirees.
In response, many communities, including those in Sun City West, have spent the summer upgrading their recreation centers and adding amenities.
Sue Fuller, operations manager at Tucson’s Voyager Resort and RV Park, said the park spent the summer improving roads and adding new sewing facilities and a card room. The park also has added houses and manufactured homes to its residential options.
Palm Creek in Casa Grande has about 2,000 RV spaces, pools, golf, tennis, a dog park, pickle ball courts, yoga and social activities.
Although some RV parks are seeing a decline in occupancy because of more-affordable housing or market trends, Palm Creek is seeing more visitors who come earlier and stay longer, said Mike Ravenhill, tourism management consultant with Palm Creek.
When the Casa Grande facility is full, which it expects to be in February, it will have almost 4,000 residents.
“For every one going out to buy a house, 10 are coming in,” he said. “We are marketing our property differently.”
He said that marketing is focused on advertising Palm Creek as an upscale resort destination, reflecting the desires of the younger retirees.
“Baby boomers are becoming upscale RVers,” he said. “They want services, and they are not afraid to pay for it. They can afford it.”