Many of today’s winter visitors are younger and more mobile than their counterparts of years past.
“They may go to Arizona this year, Texas next year, and Florida the next year,” said Kristi Collier, president and CEO of Welcome Home Rio Grande Valley, which markets 74 RV parks and resorts from Mission to South Padre Island.
Snowbirds unfamiliar with the RGV are also more likely to be concerned by publicity about violence in Mexico, even though cities in the Rio Grande Valley have less crime than other popular winter resort destinations in other states.
Despite these challenges, RV parks and resorts across the Valley are finding that they can continue to grow their business base for the winter season if they offer plenty of organized activities and continue to invest in new amenities for their parks, said Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO of theTexas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
These new amenities include walking areas and agility courses for people with dogs as well as special pet-related activities.
“Dog parks are a big deal,” said Jacqueline Gomez, who is the marketing director for Llano Grande Lake Park Resort & Country Club in Mercedes, Victoria Palms Resort in Donna, and Alamo Park Mobile Home & RV Park in Alamo. She said each of the resorts has two, off-leash dog areas.
The dog park at Bentsen Palm Village in Mission has become so popular that the owners recently added a second park so that guests could have separate running and play areas for big dogs and small dogs.
“About 70% to 75% of our guests have dogs, so these kinds of amenities are important,” said Juanita Carvajal, Bentsen Palm Village’s general manager.
Of course, while pet friendly amenities are attractive to Winter Texans, that’s not the only attraction at Bentsen Palm Village. The 250-site resort recently set aside an open area of the park where its guests can grow their own organic fruits, vegetables and herbs.
“It’s like a community garden,” Carvajal said, “but we give each guest a 10 by 10-foot section where they can put a stake with their name on it. They often grow kale, peppers, tomatoes, onions and radishes. Sometimes, they grow so much they bring it into the office to share.”
Birding, Hiking and Wildlife
Bentsen Palms also markets its proximity to the World Birding Center while also highlighting the rare birds and other wildlife that make their way into the park.
“This past season, we had a family of elf owls that stayed in our park,” Carvajal said, adding that the owls are only 5 inches tall.
“The season before we had Black vented Orioles,” a rare bird native to Mexico and Central America that has a black hood, upper back and wings, and a bright yellow-orange underside.
Many Valley visitors enjoy state parks, national wildlife preserves, and other nature reserves. Others like taking bike rides and walks and kayaking down the Rio Grande River.
RV park operators are finding that other types of organized activities are also critical for today’s Winter Texans.
El Valle del Sol in Mission offers more than 100 activities each week for its guests including classes in wood carving, ceramics, and painting and Tai Chi while its food related events range from pancake breakfasts to potluck dinners with Hawaiian, Cajan, Western, and other culinary themes. The park also has live entertainment with polka bands and other musicians.
Winter visitors like their surroundings to be nice, too, which is why many Rio Grande Valley parks are also investing in aesthetic improvements and other creature comforts.
“We just put in a high powered Wi-Fi system this summer and everybody is real happy about that,” said Ruth Dearinger, manager of VIP Park in La Feria.
Other improvements at the 256-site park include resurfaced streets, landscaping, and the installation of more campsites with 50 amp electrical hookups.
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