Resurgence of the Polar vortex and snow in 49 of the 50 states is good news for the Sunbelt.
Campgrounds in southern California, Texas, Florida, and Arizona are seeing a boom in occupancy for December–March with travelers seeking a respite from this winter’s ravaging snow and plummeting temperatures.
The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reports that more than 1 million RVers will use their RV this winter to head to warmer climates, spending on average 12 weeks at campgrounds throughout the Sunbelt.
“RVing has always been popular in the winter months but this year has been exceptionally successful for campgrounds. Every segment of traveler is discovering that RVing is affordable, easy and most importantly, flexible,” says Richard Coon, RVIA president.
“RVers can stay at a campground for as long as they would like or travel throughout the season without worrying about any long-term commitments, an option not afforded traditional seasonal rentals. If you want a new view, just pick up and go.”
The most popular Sunbelt state for snowbirds is Florida with RV parks seeing an ever-expanding demographic of travelers who will spend the winter months working while escaping the cold weather.
“We are at 100 percent occupancy for February and March and up 20 percent for April over last year. This winter has been great for us,” Tim Deputy, GM of Sun N Fun RV Resort in Sarasota, Florida.
“We’re seeing the retirees that you would expect to be snowbirds, but also a growing number of younger folks who are telecommuting. With technology, you can really work anywhere, so why not spend the winter on the beach if you can?”
However, campgrounds are doing more than just relying on good weather and warm beaches to attract the competitive snowbird market. They’re adding amenities that rival traditional hotel resorts.
Two years ago, Sun N Fun RV Resort opened an 18,000-square-foot spa and wellness center with an indoor swimming pool, infrared sauna, and steam room. They also offer an onsite masseuse and sports therapist. Perhaps the most unique aspect of this campground is the Neurogym, equipped with computer programs and equipment that helps people learn how to reduce their stress and improve their mental wellbeing.
Services and amenities are increasingly more important for a campground to compete with other snowbird accommodations. The Golden Village Palms RV Resort in Hemet, California, has garnered a reputation for outstanding entertainment seven days a week with tribute bands, jazz performances, and dinner shows. They also cater to the pet-friendly traveler with a dog park and weekly Bark & Wine parties.
Arizona-based Carefree RV Resorts, which offers more than 10,000 RV and park model sites throughout the Sunbelt, expects to see a 6 percent increase in revenue over last winter.
“The snowbird business is stronger than ever. The convergence of a steadily recovering economy, the demographic bulge of Baby Boomers who embrace travel and leisure, the ease of connectivity for travelers, and the growing appeal of RVing as a vibrant lifestyle will likely fuel growth for decades,” says Colleen Edwards, president of Carefree RV Resorts.
“What’s particularly encouraging is that the snowbird season is extending every year with many of our guests, who have traditionally checked out in March, staying through April.”
Texas has seen a particularly robust season this year as well, with parks from the central part of the state, known as the Texas Hill Country, to the southern border of the Rio Grande Valley reporting a year-to-year increase ranging from 5 percent to 37 percent, that is credited to the severe winter weather in the north. But it’s not just the campgrounds that are benefiting from this winter’s frigid temperatures and record-breaking snow.
“According to a University of Texas Pan Am study of snowbirds, they spend nearly $100 a day when visiting Texas; so the economic impact to the whole community is significant,” says Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
Helping fuel this boom is the strong performance of the RV industry that is surging back from the great recession. Shipments in 2013 hit a four-year high of 321,127 units—up 12.4 percent over 2012 totals and nearly double the amount of RVs shipped in 2009 at the depth of the recession for the industry.
It started out a dream
A simple someday soon
But we worked hard
and made it real
This snow-bird life
behind the wheel.