CEO Welcomes Winter Texans With Smiles & Appreciation

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CEO Welcomes Winter Texans With Smiles & Appreciation

Kristi Collier, center, and her Welcome Home RGV staff enjoy getting out into the community to meet with Winter Texans. (courtesy)
Kristi Collier, center, and her Welcome Home RGV staff enjoy getting out into the community to meet with Winter Texans. (courtesy)

It all started with a coupon book.

Kristi Collier in those early years of the 2000s had worked for the Red Cross. It gave her entry to RV parks across the Rio Grande Valley in seeking Winter Texans who could volunteer for Red Cross activities. Her second job with a title company ended in 2007 due to the housing bubble crash of the Great Recession. By then, Collier had started a coupon book focused on the Winter Texan market. 

“As a small business owner, I was looking for something that worked for me and could bring value to my community,” said Collier, a McAllen native. 

Her contact over the years with Winter Texans brought familiar questions. Where can I find a good mechanic? Can you recommend a trustworthy doctor? Where do I go to find a good plumber or someone who services air conditioning? 

“It just kind of hit me one night,” Collier said. “Why not be a chamber of commerce for Winter Texans?”

Kristi Collier, the CEO of Welcome Home RGV, center, enjoys spending time with Winter Texans. (courtesy)
Kristi Collier, the CEO of Welcome Home RGV, center, enjoys spending time with Winter Texans. (courtesy)

Creating A Culture

She recalled “hitting the streets” in RV communities.

She was connecting, learning more, taking that knowledge and reaching out to potential advertisers. There are about 300 RV parks across the Valley with a Winter Texan population whose numbers fluctuate. One can accurately estimate north of 100,000 seasonal residents. Attention to this tourist market is long standing in the Valley, from cities to businesses across the board, with focus at times scattered and short lived.

Collier has put a lens on the Winter Texan market like perhaps no one ever had. The coupon book was only a start. A vibrant seasonal magazine was created to welcome Winter Texans back to the RGV. A monthly newspaper was a later addition, which would become weekly during the tourist season. An area guide was introduced, with listings of RV and mobile home parks across the region. For even more detail, site maps for individual parks became available. 

Add a mobile app and a robust website. Now, Collier’s Welcome Home RGV reaches about every identifiable segment of the Winter Texan market. At her Nolana Avenue office in McAllen recently, Collier looked back with pride at the growth of her business and a staff that now numbers over 20 employees. 

“We just know how to connect people,” she said. “They, (Winter Texans), do so much for our area. We, as a region, need to show our appreciation for them.”

Kristi Collier joins McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos at an expo in the city to promote tourism. (courtesy)
Kristi Collier joins McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos at an expo in the city to promote tourism. (courtesy)

Promoting Texas & RGV

Collier’s advocacy for Winter Texans will have a higher platform with her recent appointment to the board of directors of the Texas Travel Alliance. 

The alliance is a leading voice for the Texas travel industry. Its membership includes transportation, destination, attractions and support businesses. Collier’s leadership as the president and chief executive officer of Welcome Home RGV was cited in growing a company that has gone beyond newspapers and magazines to establishing travel and real estate businesses. 

Collier sees her board membership for a statewide association as a good fit for what her company does to market and develop tourism for Texas. 

“They don’t know city limit signs,” she said of Winter Texans, who travel thousands of miles from their homes in the Midwest and Canada to reach the Valley, the Texas Hill Country and other Lone Star locations. “We’re selling Texas as a tourist destination.”

There is no more astute observer of the Winter Texan population as Collier. She analyzes the generational change from World War II era retirees to the Baby Boomers who now make up the vast majority of the tourists. The latter group is staying in the Valley for shorter durations than their predecessors, she said. They’re also willing to pay more for quality services and products. The Baby Boomer retiree is generally better educated and has higher expectations for how they should be treated and served, she said.

Kristi Collier, the CEO of Welcome Home RGV, center, enjoys spending time with Winter Texans. (courtesy)
Kristi Collier, the CEO of Welcome Home RGV, center, enjoys spending time with Winter Texans. (courtesy)

Stories Told

Then there are what Collier calls “converted Texans.” Winter Texans who have decided to stay in the Valley year-round. Welcome Home RGV products recognize their importance to local communities. A recent story in the weekly Welcome Home Winter Texan newspaper recognized two converted Texans who are involved in a welcome wagon program at a Donna RV Park.

Collier organizes summer supper clubs for the converted Texans. She also hosts symbolic naturalization ceremonies where the once seasonal tourists make public commitments to their adopted state.

“It’s important to recognize them,” she said. “They are just as important to the Valley as Winter Texans.”

Whether seasonal or converted, the Winter Texan community gives of their time and money to help local youth, non-profit organizations, and first responders, among many others, Collier said. Welcome Home RGV’s newspapers, magazines and website tell their stories. The founder of those products and its businesses remains committed to highlighting their contributions.

“The work they do and the contributions they make to the Valley are immeasurable,” Collier said. “The Valley still doesn’t fully understand all the things Winter Texans bring to the table.”

There are over 300 RV parks in the Rio Grande Valley. Welcome Home RGV has a presence and connection to many of these parks. (courtesy)
There are over 300 RV parks in the Rio Grande Valley. Welcome Home RGV has a presence and connection to many of these parks. (courtesy)

Ricardo D. Cavazos is a Rio Grande Valley native and journalist who has worked as a reporter, editor and publisher at Texas newspapers. Cavazos formerly worked as a reporter and editorial writer at The Brownsville Herald, Dallas Times Herald, Corpus Christi Caller-Times and San Antonio Light. He served as editor of The Monitor in McAllen from 1991-1998 and from there served for 15 years as publisher at The Herald in Brownsville. Cavazos has been providing content for the Valley Business Report since 2018.

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