Rumors that some snowbirds had flown the coop this winter season are true, but area Chamber of Commerce officials for Corpus Christi, Texas, say there still were plenty of winter Texans around, according to the Corpus Christi Caller Times.
However, several RV campground operators in the Corpus Christi region, known also as the Coastal Bend, said their business was quite strong this past winter because their area is becoming an attractive alternative to the Rio Grande Valley farther south.
The Rio Grande Valley, Florida and Arizona have all reported fewer tourists this year. Port Aransas, Rockport and Corpus Christi tourism officials say they think there were small declines in the number of winter Texans, but none were sure just how serious, the newspaper reported.
Rockport-Fulton Area Chamber of Commerce Director Diane Probst said the start of the season, which runs from October through March, was sluggish at first but has picked up.
“I heard a lot of different things,” Probst said. “Health issues, less disposable income, high gas prices, weather up there. Everybody is getting older, but a big portion of it was health reasons and less money because of the economy.”
Probst said many winter Texans get their spending money from investments. Because the stock market is still sluggish following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it has affected the pocketbooks of many who traditionally come to the area.
“It did not affect us in the beginning,” Probst said. “But since 9/11, the economy has slowed up and there is a trickle-down effect. Some came, but some did not stay as long. They were saying, ‘We are going to go, but we will stay two months instead of four months.’ ”
And some of what looks like declining numbers stems from a different sort of winter Texan, said Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce Director Ann Vaughan.
“I have not done a real survey, but there were probably some declining numbers in long-term condo rentals, but they were made up by short-termers,” Vaughan said. “There is more transit, rather than fewer winter Texans. There has been a large increase in the RV market. So you are seeing more in RVs that used to stay in condos.”
At some area RV parks, that has proven true.
Last week in Port Aransas, winter Texans packed the Pioneer RV Park. Although parks in the Rio Grande Valley reported losses, Pioneer Assistant Manager Jeanne Temple said traffic into her park has been nonstop.
“We were busy all winter,” Temple said. “I thought we were in a lull, but it has been crazy. We seem to be getting more and more popular here as the years go by.”
Many winter Texans descending on Port Aransas last week already had been to The Valley and stopped here for a few days in the sun before heading north.
Gladys Link of South Dakota said she had heard the numbers were down in The Valley and that she had noticed the RV park she stayed in down there was not as full as last year. She said Port Aransas and the Coastal Bend are rapidly becoming a big draw for winter Texans.
Link’s friend, Connie Gillean of Oklahoma, has been coming to the Corpus Christi area since 1960. She brought Link and her husband up from The Valley to sample life in Port Aransas.
Gillean’s husband, Jerry, said they value the area for the weather, food, fishing and friends they have made here.
“I told my husband I almost feel like I’m home,” she said.
At Driftwood RV Park in Rockport, owner Gaynor Willis said she had anticipated thinning crowds because many of the people who have traditionally stayed at her park have reached an age at which they are no longer traveling. Instead, the turnout was much better than she had expected.
“We had a lot of people coming in here who had never been in the area, and they say they are coming back next year,” Willis said. “And it is a younger crowd. Newly retired or not even retired but able to take winters off.”
People who might traditionally have gone to The Valley are staying in this part of the world more often, she said.
“I think this is what they are looking for now,” Willis said. “The Valley has become so crowded, and I think the Valley offers something different. We offer fishing, water, the people and the seafood. Some of these guys can’t get enough of the oysters and shrimp. There is nothing between here and The Valley, and people have just fallen in love with it here and stop instead of going on.”
Probst said The Valley gets 120,000 to 160,000 winter Texans each year but this area is carving a niche in that market.
“For years we have seen more and more,” she said. “Maybe it’s higher crime there or they are getting tired of going to one place. More extensive marketing also helps bring them up here.”
For Ellen Kircher, manager of the Lagoons RV Park in Rockport, that meant a packed park throughout the winter and the promise of more of the same in the future.
She said she has heard about issues with The Valley, and many people have told her they would rather be coming to Coastal Bend.
“I’ll tell you why,” she said. “I have heard that they think The Valley is overcrowded and the prices down there are too high. This was our best year ever, and we are already 95% booked for next winter.”