The beautiful fall leaves have just begun to emerge in northern states like Michigan, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Iowa, and that’s the first hint that the Rio Grande Valley and other South Texas communities will soon welcome the annual influx of Winter Texans.
It’s the best time of the year for Kristi Collier and the team at Welcome Home, Rio Grande Valley, who work tirelessly year-round to introduce residents in the northern United States and Canada to the attractions, the people, and the much milder winters of South Texas.
“I am from McAllen and have lived here all my life, and I have never known life without our Winter Texans,” said Collier, founder, president, and CEO of Welcome Home RGV.
So, how did this all begin?
In 2007, Collier was laid off from her job and decided to start something new. That same year, she founded Welcome Home RGV, which was loosely based on the principles of other civic organizations, such as local chambers of commerce.
Her father was very active in those organizations, and Collier remembers how much effort they put into welcoming businesses to the community. So she thought, why not do the same for Winter Texans?
“Our individual cities do a great job of recognizing the importance of Winter Texans, but that’s as far as it goes,” she said.
In 2008, she set her mind to becoming that exclusively Winter Texan Chamber of Commerce. But over the span of 15 years, Welcome Home RGV has become much more than an organization that rolls out the red carpet for Winter Texans.
Welcome Home RGV provides a number of services to Winter Texans, including activities and travel opportunities, real estate rentals — or homes for sale if they decide to stay — resort resources, a weekly newsletter, and more.
For more than 40 years, Winter Texans have traveled from as far away as Canada to avoid the traditionally harsh winters to enjoy the milder South Texas climate, as well as the activities available in the Valley, the lower cost of living, the friendly people and, of course, the availability of campgrounds and RV Parks.
There are more than 300 RV Parks in the Valley, Collier said.
According to information from Welcome Home RGV, the average Winter Texans range between 50 and 76-years-old, and will either arrive in the Valley via car, motor home, or pulling a trailer or an RV, while only a handful will fly.
Slightly more than 23% of those Winter Texans will come to Mission, while others seem to favor Weslaco, Alamo, or Donna. Others will travel to South Padre Island or Harlingen.
A majority of Winter Texans will stay in the Valley for about three months, while others will stay as long as nine months out of the year.
“Snowbirds go to Arizona and Florida, but here in Texas, we recognize the importance Winter Texans have on our communities,” Collier said. “The interesting thing is that they don’t recognize they are Winter Texans until they get here. Until then, they are Snowbirds.”
Collier and her marketing team recently returned from a nine-day recruiting tour in four Midwest states, where they introduced residents to the virtues of being a Winter Texan. Some of their stops included Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Big Lake, Minnesota, Monticello, Minnesota, Rice Lake, Wisconsin, and Davenport, Iowa.
“We had a happy hour and invited our Winter Texans friends to come and to bring friends who are interested in learning about wintering in Texas; it was very successful,” she said.
Some have to first be sold on the virtues of Texas itself, since most don’t realize how big the state is and how much differs between Dallas or Amarillo and the RGV. But warm winters and friendly faces mean the most to them.
“There are so many similarities between South Texas and the Midwest,” she said. “Our Texas hospitality really resonates with them because they feel like they are at home here.”
Some of those Winter Texans have enjoyed themselves so much that they’ve decided to stay permanently. According to Collier, approximately 26% have decided to buy a home and become “Converted Texans.”
“We literally have something for everyone,” she said.
To learn more, visit welcomehomergv.com.