But the heydays for these retired part-time residents, dubbed Winter Texans, may be over.
A new study by the University of Texas-Pan American’s Business and Tourism Research Center shows an alarming drop in the number of Winter Texans traveling to the Valley.
The survey counted about 100-thousand Winter Texans this past season, down from 144-thousand four years ago. In turn, the economic value of Winter Texans also shrunk, from 800-million dollars spent four years ago, down to 710-million dollars this past season.
Last winter, the Valley lost 33,000 Winter Texans many of whom have migrated south for many years, said the bi-annual report that surveyed 88 parks and nearly 1,400 people.
Winter Texans who have died, fallen ill, or have been deterred by Mexican drug violence have helped caused the drop, according to the survey.
Many of today’s winter visitors are younger and more mobile than their counterparts of years past.
As Winter Texans grow older, 62 percent of respondents in the report noted that health was a factor in them not returning for a new season.
Concerned family members were the second reason that they do not return.
Perceptions of drug violence ranked third—a departure from the last survey taken in 2012, when it ranked atop the list of why wintertime visitors avoided the region.
It is a worrying trend. That’s how the head of the U-T-P-A Business and Research Tourism U-T-P-A marketing professor Dr. Penny Simpson summed up the study. It’s time for local chambers of commerce to ramp up their marketing campaigns to counteract the negative perception potential new Winter Texans may have of the Valley, she said.
Kathy Olivarez, the editor of the Winter Texan Times, says they’re getting numerous calls from readers wondering if it’s safe to return—citing national media stories that portray a dangerous border region in chaos.
Learning of the report’s findings last month prompted local chambers of commerce to join together for a call of action in late July.
“We have been tracking this, knew it was happening and have a plan,” said Nancy Millar, vice president of the McAllen Convention and Visitors Bureau, a branch of the local chamber.
Millar said the chamber rounded up more than 200 business leaders to try to find ideas to keep Winter Texans coming—and coming back.
She admitted that businesses relied on word of mouth for years instead of targeted marketing in the Midwest states, where many Winter Texans reside.
Nuevo Progreso, a Mexican border town just south of Weslaco, is still considered a safe haven for many Midwesterners and Canadians who flock there for cheap dental work and discounted medical prescriptions—though there have been a handful of violent incidents.
In July, a nearby shootout between suspected armed rival groups left 10 dead and spooked some retirees. And in December 2009, gunfire erupted during an annual celebration welcoming back Winter Texans, but no visitors reported injuries.
RV parks surveyed in the 2014 report cited worried calls from prospective visitors up north, but none of the dozen RV Parks contacted for this story would confirm it.
More than 85 percent of Winter Texans said they visited Mexico for an average of five trips per year, which has helped Tamaulipas’ northern border towns rake in around $30 million in tourism revenue each year, the report said.
Others deny longtime Winter Texans are afraid.
“We are looking forward to a good year,” said mobile home park manager Gail McDaniel, who runs 1015 RV Park in Weslaco.
McDaniel said reservations are strong and most Winter Texans are not worried about border violence.
She pointed to poor health and the inability to travel for most vacancies.
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