Kristi Collier had an upfront message recently when addressing a luncheon attended by several hundred community and industry leaders connected to tourism in the Rio Grande Valley.
“The number of Winter Texans isn’t growing,” said the president and CEO of Welcome Home Rio Grande Valley. “It’s on the decline.”
The message was delivered during a luncheon on April 22 at the Victoria Palms RV Resort in Donna. Collier presented highlights of a new economic impact study conducted by the UTRGV Department of Data and Information Systems. Welcome Home commissioned the study to provide fresh information and insights. In Collier’s view, the findings also dispel some myths about Winter Texans.
What’s not in doubt is that Winter Texans continue to have an enormous presence in the Valley economy. The new study shows Winter Texans and their visiting families combine to provide the regional economy with a $1.9–billion economic impact.
Friends, Family, Hotels
There are nearly 53,000 Winter Texan households. Of those seasonal residents, 73 percent get visits by family members during their time in the Valley. Those family members stay at area hotels and eat at local restaurants while visiting their adult parents. The new study estimates Winter Texan “friends and family” spend over $60 million a year with the RGV lodging industry.
“The consensus is that Winter Texans don’t stay at hotels, but we know better and we have the data to back it up,” Collier said.
Another indicator of the Winter Texan impact on the lodging industry is that 42 percent of Winter Texans stay at hotels when visiting South Padre Island. The new study reports that factor adds $6.3 million to the Island economy. It’s just one aspect of the overall Winter Texan impact on the region.
“I don’t want to lose another one or two percent a year, do you?” Collier asked those attending the luncheon, alluding to the incremental loss of Winter Texan numbers for several running years running.
Collier attributed the steady decline of Winter Texans to the lack of coordinated marketing campaigns that highlight the RGV as a whole.
“They don’t know where McAllen ends and Mission begins, or if they’re in Pharr or San Juan,” she said. “So why are we marketing that way? It’s time to take a regional approach.”
Some other highlights provided by the Welcome Home/UTRGV Study include:
- Nearly 90 percent of Winter Texans volunteer with local non-profit organizations, libraries, and other organizations benefitting communities.
- Winter Texans cite climate, friendly people, cost of living, visiting Mexico and South Padre Island as their top five reasons for coming to the Valley.
- Over 20 percent of Winter Texans spend at least four months in the RGV.
- A younger generation of Winter Texans is coming by car, often without an RV rig attached, as they prefer living in second homes or condos. The study showed 60 percent of the tourists come by car, with 11 percent driving a motorhome and 10 percent pulling a trailer.