Will snowbirds head south for the winter? Retirees weigh warmer weather travel amid coronavirus pandemic

Snowbirds and Sunbirds - What you need to know

Florida, Arizona and other warm weather states are calling, but will snowbirds answer as the coronavirus pandemic continues?

Retirees who usually travel south for the winter have a decision to make. Can they, or will they, continue with their annual planning to escape the cold, snowy weather for the bright sun and warm sand?

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One Minnesota couple who have traveled south for more than a decade will not be making the trip for 2020. The five and a half months Jerry Ellis and Judy Ellis spend in Florida, Arizona or Texas will this year be spent in Minnesota, since they have concerns about contracting COVID-19, Minnesota Public Radio reported.

At first, they were planning to make the trek to Plano, Texas, but decided against it as the number of positive cases and the death toll in the U.S. continued to rise.

Another couple who have made the trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama, for 45 years will be missing it, as may other members of the town’s Minnesota Snowbird Club, whose members are between their mid-60s and 80s, MPR reported.

Nancy Poferl and her husband Jeff Poferl will make the trip, but she’s not sure how many other Minnesotans will, she told MPR.

International snowbirds are also having to spend their winters in their Canadian hometowns.

Carol Barlow and her husband Dale Barlow normally start their seasonal migration south from Davidson, Saskatchewan in November. But this year they will be staying in the area where the temperatures usually are near zero, and their mobile home will remain vacant in sunny Mesa, Arizona, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Canadian government officials have issued a travel advisory that discourages nonessential travel abroad, the newspaper reported.

The Canadian Snowbird Association said 60% of retirees or those in semiretirement travel to Florida for 31 or more consecutive nights and mostly in the winter. Others go to Arizona and Texas.

The lack of travel is hurting areas of the U.S. that depend on the business the snowbirds bring.

“Before COVID-19 happened, we were booked solid for this winter season. Now, we are very slow,” Lynda Phelps, co-owner of the Upriver RV Resort in North Fort Meyers, Florida, told the newspaper. “We need the Canadians.”

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research found about 70,000 snowbirds travel to Sarasota County, while Manatee County gets about 43,000 people traveling from the north.

“For the Canadian market, if their behavior changes in any way from what we have seen historically — which is a few weeks to a few months in the winter — we will feel the negative impact of that,” Kelly Defebo, director of sales for Visit Sarasota County, told the Herald-Tribune. “Not only does it hurt tourist development tax, but all the ancillary spending they do while they are here — dining, shopping, visiting attractions, et cetera — feel the effects, and also the sales tax revenue is lessened.”

Another barrier to travel is the fact that the land-based border crossings between Canada and the U.S. are closed. But Canadians can fly into the U.S. as long as they haven’t visited certain countries in the 14 days prior to their flight, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The border will remain closed until at least Nov. 21, the CBC reported. It was closed in March because of the pandemic.


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