Skip to comments.Hope for the winter (South Texas hopes for return of snowbirds)
Posted on 11/14/2003 5:30:00 AM PST by Arrowhead1952
South Texas hopes economic upturn means return of snowbirds
Friday, November 14, 2003
HARLINGEN -- Dean and Diane Yahnke are among the first couples to stock their mobile home and dust off their golf clubs for the coming winter at Tropic Winds resort.
After two lackluster tourism years, the Rio Grande Valley is more than ready to accommodate the St. Cloud, Minn., pair.
At least 20,000 Midwesterners usually venture south to Texas for the winter, but sagging stock market returns and post-Sept. 11 fears kept many people at home over the past two years.
The decline meant $79 million less for the local economy, hurting such things as pancake houses, newspaper sales and church collection plates.
"A lot of senior citizens, they had to go back to work because the investment interest they were depending on wasn't there," said Diane Yahnke, 69. "You look around, you see seniors, 70 years old, doing checkouts."
Since 2001, there's been a 15 percent drop in winter visitors to the valley, said Vern Vincent, director of the University of Texas-Pan American Research Center, which released its Winter Texan study last month.
Among researchers' findings: Big-ticket expenses were way down. Real estate agents saw fewer inquiries into beach-side condominiums. Furniture stores sold fewer rattan sets. Deep sea fishing boats and tour buses to Mexico reported empty seats. Stores selling antiques or other high-end nonessentials suffered.
"There's been a drop on what gets bought at our stores," said Steve Hathcock, owner of South Padre Trading Co., which sells knickknacks gathered from the region. "Winter Texans traditionally are living on fixed incomes. . . . They're afraid their stocks and their pensions won't go as far."
Even the Luby's cafeteria chain, a low-priced favorite, noticed the difference.
Steve Eriksmoen, manager of a Harlingen Luby's, said trade was down 10 percent the winter after Sept. 11, 2001. He said it rebounded last year, but was still down about 4 percent. The typical winter resident is a retired Midwesterner with an annual income of $46,500 who spends $4,100 during a 3 1/2-month stay, the study showed. Over the past two winters, though, that spending was down to about $3,500, researchers found.
Belt tightening was the pattern nationwide, said Cathy Kefee of the Travel Industry Association of America.
"Nationally, leisure travel has been doing fairly well," she said. "The difference is that travelers are spending much less money. That's what's hurting the industry's bottom line."
The U.S. travel industry as a whole is looking toward 2004 as the start of the recovery, she said.
Vincent said many of the valley's more than 500 mobile home parks are reporting an increase in reservations.
"This year we'll at least hold our own," he said. "The only concern would be that we have another terrorism event."
More than 80 percent of people wintering in Texas live in mobile home parks such as Tropic Winds.
The park is one of the region's newest, stretching out over former farmland not far from Harlingen's Valley International Airport and within an hour of the beach at South Padre Island and the Mexican border.
In 2000, three-quarters of the park's 534 sites were full. In 2001 and 2002, it was half empty. The park slashed prices on mobile homes up to $10,000 this year, with residents buying the units for about $20,000 to $50,000, and renting the sites for a few hundred dollars a month or about $1,200 for a season.
"They say in Arizona you can buy places cheap, cheap, cheap," said Don Thompson, a retired farmer from Monticello, Ill., who is a neighbor of the Yahnkes. "Because of the Canadians, there's so many for sale."
Canadians, usually among the first to arrive, are staying north because of their weaker dollar, he said. The Yahnkes are also convinced warm winters make a difference.
"When people are still golfing in November into December, they're just not rolling down," Diane Yahnke said. "What they need up north is about six feet of snow. Then they'll be coming."
Last year, I had the pleasure to meet several "snobirds" at the golf course where I work as a marshal one - two weekends each month. The people were very considerate on the course, unlike some of the regulars.
All the subjects were campers in South Mississippi, Alabama, and NW Florida, parks. It turned out that nearly all the campers were Canadian. These people were so friendly and nice (and conservative) that I am surpried where all the leftist come from in Canada today.
There is still an AF base in San Antonio. The one in Austin is now ABIA (Austin Bergstrom International [really means inconvenient] Airport.
Did you mean South Padre? I haven't been down there this year, other than the Corpus Christi area. The Naval Air Station is still open. They were remodeling the Breezeway Inn (housing) last year July.
that old base in Harlingen Texas that is now the Academy has the original "cast" of the Iwo Jima Memorial which was donated to the school by the sculptor and Harlan Block's remains were transfered to the school by permission of the family who felt the school and memorial would be a fitting place to honor him. Any Freepers that are in the South Texas Area should visit Harlingen, Texas and the memorial site. It's very impressive to see that not all the young men in this country opt for an easy road. The small museum has interesting relics from Marine Corp history.
I'm very proud of the school.......... as any alumni would be of his alma mater. ;-)
Fishing is getting good now. There is a property owners association's marina on Lake Travis I like to go fishing at. Monday before last, I caught over 75 crappie. Ten or so were keepers, but just pulling out one after the next was fun. Had my hook straightened twice. May have been a striped bass or big catfish.
The flounder should be great now. Haven't talked to any of my salt water fishing buds, but someone said they caught quite a few on shrimp. Normally, we gig flounder, but he said they were hitting live shrimp.
I don't know about the land prices, but there are quite a few small tracts of land for sale just outside the Austin area. I see for sale signs at various older farms that are being sold in small 5 - 10 acre tracts.
That is a fact many people don't understand. Texas is not a state you can drive across in one day. Living in the Austin area, it takes several hours in any direction to get to any border.