RVers migrating to warmer temperatures in Southwest Florida appear undeterred by rising gas costs, according to a report in the Fort Myers News-Press.
Fuel prices are “frustrating,” said Jim Williams, who recalled paying about $285 the last time he filled the 100-gallon diesel tank of his 38-foot Dutch Star motorhome in December.
Still, they’d have to get a lot worse before the 66-year-old Michigan man and his wife would stop coming to Southwest Florida for the winter, and taking other trips to such far-flung places as New England, Texas and Seattle.
“If it got to be $4 a gallon, that might make me reconsider my plans,” said Williams, who spends six months or less in their home in Jackson, Mich.
“I like going to different locations, as opposed to having a permanent second residence,” Williams said.
Financially comfortable retirees like the Williamses are a big reason why dealer expectations are high for the 21st annual Fort Myers RV show, which begins Thursday (Jan. 26).
“The people who buy the big rigs are people who’ve earned the money. Now they want to live that lifestyle,” said Jerry Byers, sales manager for North Trail RV Center in east Fort Myers. He represents one of about 20 dealerships planning to participate in the local RV show at Lee Civic Center in north Fort Myers.
In Lee County, the average price of a gallon of regular grade gasoline hit an all-time high of $3.033 on Sept. 6. The average price fell below $2.20 in late 2005, but has been climbing again in 2006. On Monday, the average price was $2.446, according to AAA. A year ago, that same gallon cost $1.94.
The price of a gallon of diesel in Lee County reached a record of $3.362 on Oct. 10. On Monday, the average cost was $2.631.
Despite high pump prices, Florida dealers claimed 2005 was still a profitable year. At North Trail RV Center, Byers said ” ’05 was a terrific year – the best we’ve had – even with (higher) gas prices.”
With a big crop of affluent early retirees here for at least part of the year, local RV dealers are sitting pretty, according to Byers: “If the economy slows across the nation, we slow last – and we gear up first.”
And, when fuel prices rise, RV owners often find ways to economize without giving up their homes on wheels.
“A lot of the older folks who have Class A (motorhomes) are trading down to get better mileage,” said Danny Wise, whose family owns American Van & Camper Center in south Fort Myers.
Former Cape Coral residents and full-time RVers Marty and Terry Doede said they don’t move their motorhome as often as they did when gas was cheaper: “You really think about where you travel – and you make it worthwhile when you get there,” said Marty Doede, 69.