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For decades, retirees from the Midwest, Northwest and Canada migrated to the warmer temperatures in the Mesa, Ariz., area during the harsh winter months.
According to the Mesa East Valley Tribune, travelers typically gathered at age-restricted communities, which became their second home.
That demographic is changing, however, as Baby Boomers are finding the snowbird lifestyle inviting. They’re also looking for a new set of amenities and activities from the traditional retiree, which is forcing operators to change with the times in order to survive.
Joan Fogge, manager of Mesa Spirit, the city’s oldest retirement RV park, said the facility has struggled to bring visitors in over the last few years, largely because many of its spaces are too small to accommodate the big-ticket RVs with slideouts preferred by Boomers.
Fogge said the park rented out about 1,200 of its 1,800 spaces last winter, about 100 above the previous year. She said they’re doing what they can to accommodate people who need more room for larger motorhomes, and a larger-scale revamp of the park is in the talking stages.
Some experts think the RV parks may be facing extinction, with the decline of the generation that fueled their rise, plus competition from less-congested parts of the state.
Wendy Hultsman, an associate professor of recreation and tourism at Arizona State University West, has guided the long-range planning process for two East Valley retirement communities, Venture Out and Apache Wells.
Venture Out just opened a revamped $4 million community center, a product of Hultsman’s research.
She said Venture Out is taking the right steps to try to adapt to the coming Boomer market, but it and other RV parks are in particular peril even though Boomers are buying motorhomes because they are more interested in having intergenerational experiences.
“The ones who feel secure financially are definitely looking for adventure, and travel especially, but with family,” she said.
ASU’s Center for Business Research reported in 2004 that occupancy rates at Valley parks had been falling for six years while rising in Yuma and Pinal County, but snowbirds as a whole dropped $1 billion into the state’s economy.
ASU economics professor Stephen Happel said the university launched another study of the retirement parks in February, and while he also expects many Boomers to shun age-restricted communities, the sheer size of that group makes it almost certain that a significant number will choose the RV-park lifestyle.