The University of Texas-Pan American Tourism Research Center has just published its 2002-2003 Winter Visitor Study - a biennial survey conducted in March, which examines the economic impact of Winter Texans, Mexican Nationals and other visitors to the Rio Grande Valley.
According to Dr. Vern Vincent, CIS and Quantitative Methods professor and director of the UTPA Tourism Research Center, one of the most significant findings in this year's report was the decrease in number of Winter Texans from two years ago.
This decrease as well as a decline in the total dollars spent per household by Winter Texans translated into a decline of $79 million into the local economy. The survey showed the number one reason for the decrease in Winter Texan visitors, besides personal health reasons, was a terrorism threat and the second reason was the economy.
Another area of concern, Vincent said, was the number of first time Winter Texan visitors dropped about 4 to 5 percent. "Why is it a concern? Because for Winter Texans this is about their eighth trip on average so they are repeat customers. Once they start on the pattern of visiting the area, over 90 percent return. If we get a drop off in first time visitors, that carries through for awhile - like a ripple effect," Vincent said.
Vincent said the economic impact of Winter Texans and other visitors is tremendous. For example, this year the survey asked what Winter Texans do when they are here. Thirty-five percent said they volunteer for non-profit organizations an average of more than 10 hours a week.
"Just looking at that, at minimum wage, translates to a $33 million dollar donation to our communities," Vincent said.
The survey, initially conducted in 1984, is funded from community sources, in particular, the Texas Recreational Vehicle Association - Valley Chapter. The research - which this year included shopping characteristics of Winter Texans, Mexican Nationals and other visitors compared to local residents - is used by Valley Chambers of Commerce as well as state tourism agencies and legislators. More than 100 Valley university students serve as field researchers to collect the data at malls in Brownsville, Harlingen and McAllen.
Vincent said many of the issues surveyed have translated into academic articles in scholarly publications and fostered collaborative publications with faculty in other UTPA colleges.
Vincent, a faculty member since 1966 and who also teaches in the College of Business Administration's doctoral program, was assisted in the survey preparation by Dr. William Thompson, a UTPA professor of Marketing and Dr. Mark Williamson, a UTPA lecturer of Quantitative Methods.
The survey can be purchased for $30 or a summary of the survey is accessible at the Center's web site -- www.coba.panam.edu/centers/tourism