The City of Mission every February hosts a Winter Texan Fiesta to show its appreciation for tourists who are often seen more as local residents than visitors.
Winter Texans have been mainstays in the Rio Grande Valley economy for decades. Mission perhaps more than any other Valley city has a reputation for catering to its winter visitors. It has more RV parks than other Valley cities. The Greater Mission Chamber of Commerce counts 47 of them in their community.
Brenda Enriquez, the chamber’s president, estimated that about a quarter of the Valley’s Winter Texan population lives in Mission. That would come to 25,000 Winter Texans residing in the city every tourist season. Given Mission’s focus on its winter visitors, city officials were gratified to learn recently that their community was ranked fourth nationally among the top destinations for “Snowbirds.”
Making A Move Nationally
The STORAGECafe survey lists Mission as the only Texas city among the top five on its list. All of the cities on the November list ranked above Mission are in Florida. McAllen ranks 16th on the national list. Enriquez was elated to see her city rank so high on the STORAGECafe survey.
“We feel we have the space and facilities needed for anyone coming down with their RV, or who are looking for a second home,” Enriquez said. “Hospitality is big in the city of Mission.”
The local friendliness when combined with the city’s lower cost of living are big draws for Winter Texans. The national survey showed that Mission’s average home price is $165,388. This is more than 50 percent less than home prices in Florida. Average rent prices were hundreds of dollars less monthly in Mission than its competitor cities in Florida.
“Cost of living is something we’ve always had going for us in the Valley,” Enriquez said.
Some of these key numbers and factors look favorable for the Valley as it competes to draw winter visitors. The huge Baby Boomer population is reaching greater retirement numbers yearly. A big question is how well Mission and the Valley will compete against larger Florida and Arizona markets for retirees. They now have more choices on where to go and what to do.
Numbers Making A Comeback
The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley and its predecessor institutions have done detailed studies of the Winter Texan industry for over 30 years.
Its last study came in 2018. The survey estimated the Valley’s Winter Texan population at that time was about 106,000 seasonal tourists. The economic impact on the Valley from the tourist trade is at $520 million, with 56,700 Winter Texan households spending an average $9314 during their stays here. These numbers seem impressive, but when compared to 2010, they show a significant crop. In 2010, Winter Texans had a $800 million impact on the regional economy.
There was some slippage in Winter Texan numbers between 2010 and 2016, the URGV study said, but by 2018, those population estimates were on the rise again. There was a steep drop in 2020 although there are no official numbers on how many fewer Winter Texans came during that year. Enriquez reported seeing a moderate increase in tourist numbers in 2021 when compared to previous year. She said her city and UTRGV need to do further research and studies to determine how the pandemic has affected the Winter Texan industry.
“Canadians didn’t come down last year,” she said. “We felt their absence. Many of them volunteer in our community, so without them, many programs and organizations lost their volunteers.
Looking at the positives, the STORAGECafe survey gives Mission its highest marks for cost of living, Internet speed, and the number and availability of golf courses.
The most recent UTRGV study also found cost of living as the region’s best attribute in the view of Winter Texans. Friendliness of the area and climate ranks second and third. Moving forward, Enriquez cited the need for more data while building on local strengths. She believes Winter Texans are becoming “more outdoorsy,” and with Mission’s butterfly and birding centers to go with Bentsen State Park, the city is well positioned in that category.
“We have lots going for us,” Enriquez said. “Our Winter Texans know that Mission is a city that will always cater to them.”