With the construction of a wall between Mexico and the US attracting so much attention in the media, Canadian snowbirds who winter in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas might be concerned about the durability of their retirement lifestyle.
According to a 2014 study by the University of Texas Pan American Business and Tourism Research Center, the numbers of snowbirds (from Canada as well as the northern US) who wintered in the Rio Grande Valley dropped from 144,000 to 100,000 in the previous 4 years.
The principal author of the study, Dr. Penny Simpson, told the Rio Grande Guardian, those who are traveling to the Valley are older and staying for longer periods, but new people are not coming. She added that those who come seem to love it here. “They come for the climate, the friendly people, and the social activities.”
She said she could only study the people who have come to Texas, not those who choose not to, so why the snowbird numbers are dwindling remains conjecture; but the bad press engendered by drug cartel activity across the river, and the subsequent drug smuggling can’t be discounted.
The Rio Grande Valley, a narrow triangular sector of southern Texas bounded by the Mexican border on the west and the Gulf of Mexico on the east, and straddling Hwy 83 from McAllen down to
Brownsville, is populated by hundreds of recreational vehicle and mobile home communities that exist primarily for the Winter Texans from the northern states as well as those from Saskatchewan, Manitoba and a good number from Ontario.
Though much of the media has focused on the fight over who will pay for the wall, the fact is that parts of it have already been built over the past 15 years, with both Democrat and Republican presidents approving it and advancing its construction. The Rio Grande Valley itself already has a wall in place for much of its border with Mexico, but leisure traffic back and forth has for many years been a great incentive for Winter Texans.
If the vision for the wall’s future does not hold up, the Winter Texan lifestyle may expire. There is genuine concern among business leaders that unless the negative stories in the media are countered by the positive news that the Valley is safe and economically sound, tourism will continue to suffer.
As for the Canadian contingent, J Ross Quigley, editor of the Canadian Snowbird Association News, says that Canada’s Winter Texans are afraid of nothing; “they have lived through all the drug wars, mostly without incident.” But, he adds: “Their only fear is the very low Canadian dollar and high rental and insurance costs. Snowbirds live on government pensions and the money raised from selling their house in Canada, if any. When the Canadian dollar only buys $0.73 US (after bank fees and charges) what can they do but stop travelling?”
He notes that overall snowbird travel from all of Canada is down 13.8%, this year.
Part of the attraction of the Rio Grande Valley has always been access to Mexico—a nice place to take visitors for shopping, lunch, sightseeing, buying medications at bargain prices without the annoying need for prescriptions.
With relations between Mexico and the U.S. as fragile as they are now, Canadian snowbirds are best advised to follow the advice and travel warnings from the government of Canada. Mexicans have no quarrel with Canada.
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