The Rio Grande Valley has welcomed retirees for decades, and it is still one of the favored winter destinations today. The valley’s population is exploding, and so has our number of winter visitors, but things are changing, and it might not be for the best. Several generations of retirees have made the valley their winter home, and some have moved here permanently. Such is the case of Doug Palmer who first came to the valley 15 years ago, and eventually relocated to Donna, Texas, from the Dallas Fort Worth area.

“I am concerned because I believe the number of winter Texans is declining significantly,” Doug said during a recent phone conversation. Doug knows about the challenges of advertising budgets, for he worked for McDonald Douglas – which merged with Boeing – for 40 years. He reached out to South Texas Tourism Marketing Cooperative (STTMC) to express his concerns. “Why do we see TV advertisement of local RV parks? That money should be spent on TV ads around the Midwest,” expressed a concerned Doug who wondered why local Chambers of Commerce are not doing their job of promoting in the Midwest.

I was very happy to answer that question, for I know the local chambers are doing what they can. About 10 years ago, directors from Hidalgo County Chambers of Commerce and Convention & Visitor Bureaus got together to form the Hidalgo County Tourism Cooperative which is now the South Texas Tourism Marketing Cooperative (STTMC). These area leaders faced budget cuts that limited their marketing efforts targeted towards the Midwest retiree. They knew this could hurt the valley’s economy, so they formed the group assuring this would not happen.  The name changed because Cameron and Willacy counties were invited to join and create a stronger voice that can be heard among the increasing competition of hundreds of destinations vying for the Baby Boomer retirement market. But things outside of STTMC’s control have surfaced, such as the violence in Mexico, the health of retirees now in their 80s that cannot make the trip south, and the changing culture of the baby boomer generation who, according to recent studies, opt for shorter stays and are far more active.

STTMC, of which I am a part of in the capacity of director, works closely with Dr. Simpson of the University of Texas – Pan American, to stay on top of changes that will inflluence our marketing efforts.  Dr. Simpson is a marketing professor, associate dean of the College of Business Administration and the Valley’s Markets and Tourism Research Center’s director. “We will find out soon on how we are doing,” said Dr. Penny Simpson adding that the 2014 survey will be available this summer. She also stated that at this point it is hard to say what is going on, for some parks are full while others are expressing concerns. For STTMC, one of the toughest challenges is raising awareness about the importance of financially supporting outside the valley marketing efforts, and this is what I explained to Doug who, exasperated perhaps, reached out to us with plenty of good ideas.

Doug, 81, believes Winter Texan visitor numbers are down by about 20%, and said we should have TV advertising all over the Midwest, and we should sit down and brainstorm on how to lure the younger retirees who are not coming to the valley.

Doug Palmer

His statement is supported by the charts included in this post from UTPA’s latest study. He believes the entertainment currently promoted here is not good for the younger folks, and he suggests tapping on Branson’s shows, which are closed during the winter, and bring them to the valley. STTMC follows studies on generational culture changes that show younger retirees favor 1960s music such as the Beatles. When asked about suggestions to bring in members and increase STTMC’s budget, Doug believes we should publish economic impact charts on every local newspaper, and even get city leaders on a bus and take them on a tour of the valley’s RV parks so they can see the empty spaces, and talk to park owners and managers.  “Find out about the Monitor’s circulation during the winter months vs. the rest of the year. Find out about employment rates between October and April. Talk to restaurants like Cheddar’s, and ask them about the economic impact brought in by retirees, they will gladly support your efforts,” said an enthusiastic Doug.

We all seem to share the same sense of urgency, and STTMC is committed to reaching out to everybody that is interested in growing this market in the 21st century. STTMC believes the valley has all the resources needed to appeal to younger retirees, but we need the financial resources and the community support. One important thing to point out is that STTMC is the only organization that promotes the entire region; there are no divisions here, for we know visitors will come and travel all over the valley during their stay. It is unreasonable to think this is not the case. Studies show that area hotels also benefit from the retiree market, for those who travel to visit a potential relocation city –whether for permanent or semi-permanent retirement – spend an average of 3 to 4 nights at a hotel. In addition, friends and family of Winter Texans visit and stay at our local hotels.

STTMC knows promoting the valley in the Midwest and Canada, from which we are seeing an increase in visitors, is important for the valley’s economy. Our hotels, restaurants, hospitals, medical offices, golf courses, entertainment and shopping venues among many service providers; all benefit if STTMC does a good job. STTMC is also aware that not all retirees choose to stay at an RV Park, but rather invest in real estate, so the valley’s affordable real estate is also promoted. I hope by now readers have a good idea of the paramount effort marketing the valley is; we have so much to offer.
Because of the enormity of the Baby Boomer market, cities like Houston, San Antonio, Las Vegas, and many others have launched expensive advertising and marketing campaigns; we cannot be left behind.

Current members of the South Texas Tourism Marketing Coop are the Hidalgo County Pumphouse, The Greater Mission Chamber of Commerce, the McAllen CVB, The Alamo EDC, the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, the Valley Partnership, and the Harlingen CVB.

We invite all Winter Texan and full-time retirees to log on, and answer a few questions that will positively impact the valley’s perception of this important market. The featured photograph comes with great advice on how to stay fit during the winter by Assure. All charts were provided by Dr. Penny Simpson.

YearNumber of WTs         Average  expenditure per household per visit   Direct Dollar contributions(in millions)
1986-8771,000$     2,591.55 $    92
1987-8876,000$     4,052.63 $  154
1988-8979,000$     4,050.63 $  160
1989-9081,000$     4,765.43 $  193
1990-9179,000$                  –
1991-9284,000$     4,761.90 $  200
1992-9387,000$     5,103.45 $  222
1994-9597,000$     5,154.64 $  250
1996-97120,000$     5,316.67 $  319
1998-99124,000$     5,306.45 $  329
2000-01143,000$     4,601.40 $  329
2002-03123,000$     4,065.04 $  250
2004-05127,000$     6,614.17 $  420
2005-06127,000$     9,976.38 $  634
2007-08127,000$     9,555.00 $  607
2009-10144,000$   10,700.00 $  803
2011-12133,400$   11,000.00$  765