For over a century, Florida has promoted itself as a “the place” for people up and down the East Coast and across the Midwest to escape winter’s chill.
The Sunshine State is famous for its white sand beaches as well as its many RV parks and resorts, many of which cater to snowbirds who are 55 and older.
But growing numbers of RV enthusiasts of all ages are increasingly discovering that neighboring Alabama also has beautiful white sand beaches. And while Alabama isn’t quite as warm as central or southern Florida in winter, it’s more affordable. It’s also cooler than central and southern Florida during the summer months.
As a result, Alabama’s RV park business is increasing, prompting construction of new parks as well as the expansion of existing RV parks, according to Thomas Sparrow, chairman of the Florida and Alabama Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds.
“For decades, people thought that Florida was the only place they could go to get warm. Now, we’re seeing more RVers coming into Alabama,” said Sparrow, who also owns Auburn RV Park at Leisure Time Campground in Auburn.
Alabama’s RV parks are also getting busier in the summer months. “Alabama’s coastal RV parks start picking up young families starting in March and they stay extremely busy from March to August,” Sparrow said, adding, “A lot of people don’t know about our beautiful white sand beaches.”
When Sparrow purchased his park 10 years ago, his overnight and extended stay business was a fraction of what it is today. “It was really quiet,” he said. “But over the past 10 years, it has just mushroomed.”
Alabama has also attracted increasing numbers of investors in RV parks, including big companies like Chicago-based Zeman Homes, which owns Johnny’s Lakeside RV Resort in Foley, near Gulf Shores, and Southfield, Mich.-based Sun Communities, which purchased Pandion Ridge RV Resort in Orange Beach in late 2019.
Smaller investors are also coming into the state, including Rob Bell, whose investment group in the past three years has purchased three RV resorts, including Birmingham South RV Park in Pelham and two parks in Gulf Shores, Island Retreat RV Park and Luxury RV Resort, after managing an RV resort in Panama City, Fla.
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“There’s lots of room to grow the RV park industry in Alabama, especially in southern Alabama,” Bell said, noting that his parks attract snowbirds as well as working people and young families. “If you’re not from the South, you don’t realize Alabama has so many beautiful beaches.”
Sparrow said Alabama is attracting growing numbers of RVers from the greater Atlanta area who find Alabama close enough to be an attractive weekend destination. Other travelers come from as far away as New Orleans and Houston on the west and as far north as Virginia.
Many of the RVers coming into Alabama are young.
“It’s a real young market,” Sparrow said, noting that visitors would be hard pressed to find parks with high concentrations of retirees.
“While people are getting to know Alabama as a snowbird destination, younger people are looking for affordable places to go. So that gives us a real mix of people of all ages in our parks,” Sparrow said.
Sparrow added that he is seeing more travel and more springtime bookings than he has seen in recent years, preceding the pandemic.
“Our spring bookings are up significantly from where they were three or four years ago,” he said, adding that other park operators are optimistic about the 2021 camping season.
About the Florida and Alabama Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds
Based in Tallahassee, the Florida and Alabama Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds is the trade association for Florida and Alabama’s privately owned RV parks and campgrounds. The association markets privately owned and operated parks through CampinAlabama.com and CampFlorida.com. The association also publishes free printed camping guides for Florida and Alabama, which can be ordered by calling (850) 562-7151.