Arizona RV parks were bracing for the worst following a year that saw gas prices reach record highs.
But, according to a report in The Arizona Republic, managers say bookings are up, surprisingly, and the winter visitors were arriving early.
With RVs getting as little as six miles to the gallon, RV owners are paying a lot to drive south for the winter. And yet, they are driving.
“You can’t give it up. You can budget somewhere else,” said Cathy St. Peter, 46, who trekked from Washington to Mesa’s Good Life RV Resort last month. “It’s like going to winter camp for grownups.”
RV devotees across America aren’t expected to end their travels this winter. They will save money by spending less time on the road but more time at RV parks, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). A recent RVIA survey showed 95% of respondents said traveling in their RVs was important, despite gas prices, while 70% saw prices as temporary obstacles and 70% planned to take a trip this fall or winter.
Snowbirds spend about $1 billion in Arizona every winter, and $610 million comes from those who stay in RV and mobile-home parks, according to a 2003 Arizona State University Center for Business Research study. Occupancy was slowly declining at the 541 Phoenix-area parks but rising dramatically at the 466 parks elsewhere in the state.
There are several reasons why RVers are hitting the road, including the fact that airfares are rising to the extent that RVing is a relatively economical way to go. Still, that doesn’t mean the industry won’t feel a pinch. RV retail sales are expected to drop slightly this year compared with 2004, although it will still be the second strongest year for sales in two decades.
The Arizona Travel Parks Association (ATPA) represents 400 RV parks, resorts and campgrounds, and State Director Carolyn Bethka said many properties were already 85%-90% full, even though the main season doesn’t start until January.
Sue Fuller, operations manager at Voyager RV Resort in Tucson, just crunched the numbers and found occupancy is up 11% this year among visitors staying three months or more at her park.
“People aren’t going to be touring around this year, spending a month here and a month there and traveling hither and beyond,” she said. “It’s just going to be too costly. They’re saying, ‘Let’s go pick an RV park and stay for the winter.’ ”
In Quartzite, 88 Shades RV Park is booked for January, although it is seeing fewer short-term visitors. Meridian RV Resort in Apache Junction is 30% full, a high number this time of year for the tiny resort with 254 spaces and no park models. It’s what Manager Don Massie calls a “true-haul-it-in, haul-it-out” park.
“We didn’t know (if people would come) based on the economy and current events,” he said. “In spite of the fact that the fuel costs are elevated, people still have enough money invested in their retirement and RV that they want to go south and get out of the cold weather.”
All but 60 of Good Life RV Resort’s 1,163 units were full in east Mesa, General Manager Dan Martin said. About 150 of those are occupied by permanent residents and the rest by visitors.