Snowbirds: Arizona’s winter economic driver

Snowbirds and winter visitors playing bingo at an RV resort. Photo by Cristian Torres/Arizona Sonora News Service

Snowbirds are an important economic drive to Arizona as they migrate for a few months into Arizona to escape the northern winter.

Every winter, the sun belt region gets an increase in population by what are called “Snowbirds.” usually elderly who migrate from the northern states and Canada to avoid  harsh winters.

Jacki Salisberry, 74, came from Moline, Illinois. She stays in Apache Junction and has remained five to six months for 18 years.

“Mostly, I just enjoy the nice warm weather,” said Salisberry. “ There is a lot of things to do that are not available in Illinois because it is too cold.”

During her stay, she volunteers in the Arizona Winter Visitors Association which holds events for these  visitors.

Based on data from Northern Arizona University’s College of Business, the winter season sees an increase in spending in restaurants and bars.  

During the four to five months snowbirds stay in Arizona, the state sees an increase in restaurant/bar spending. Pima, Pinal, Yuma and Maricopa counties get most of that revenue.

In 2017, Maricopa’s highest grossing month was March coming at $947 million in gross sales, which was an 8 percent increase from 2016’s $875 million. 2017’s lowest grossing month was July with $689 million gross sales, a 1 percent increase from the previous year.

Pima County’s 2017 gross sales increased by 10 percent coming in at $177 million in April, while the low was $139 million. This was a three percent increase from 2016’s July spending.

Pinal county’s gross sales for 2017 were as high as $36 million in March, a 13 percent increase from the previous year. The low being $23 million in July.

In Yuma county, the high was $30 million in March coming in at a 14 percent increase from the previous year’s March of $26 million. The lowest in 2017 was $20 million in July.

According to Christine Vogt, Director of the Center for Sustainable Tourism, Maricopa and Yuma counties are both the most popular snowbird destinations with Yuma doubling in population size.

Glenn Williamson, founder and CEO of the Canada Arizona Business Council ,  sees their impact as pumping in money without taking anything out.  “Snowbirds spend four months, and spend tens of thousands of dollars. This doesn’t include what they spend on cars, furniture, or houses. Some of the most expensive homes, Canadians are buying them,” said Williamson.

“Bottom line is these people take money out of Canada and spend it into the U.S. This is truly an economic driver” Williamson said.

Cristian Torres is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at ctorres@email.arizona.edu

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