BROOKSVILLE — Recreational vehicles of all types, from luxury liners to tag-alongs, are on their way once again to Hernando County.
For a 13th year, the Hernando County Airport will play host this week to the 29th annual Southeast Area rally of the Family Motor Coach Association. The rally opens Wednesday and runs through Sunday.
Some RV enthusiasts have already set up their homes-on-wheels at the airport.
Last week, registrations numbered more than 1,200 motor homes, with more reservations coming in daily, said Tom Eller, the Southeast Area's new president and manager of this year's rally.
The number of participants is somewhat dependent on the weather each year, Eller said.
"We're going to be blessed with good weather this year," he predicted.
Last year's registrations numbered about 1,300 as temperatures plunged well below freezing several mornings. Eller hopes the tally this year will exceed that, but added, "We hope to be on an even keel."
He said the downturn in the economy also kept numbers down last year.
Rally participation peeked in 2007, before fuel prices bolted upward, with some 2,000 motor homes lumbering into assigned slots with inhabitants laying out ground carpets, unfolding lawn chairs and firing up grills to welcome folks they had met at other rallies.
Most of the visitors, Eller said, are stereotypical retirees, generally age 55 to 70 who "like to eat, and they like to eat out," shop at local retail stores and visit regional attractions.
Thus, each year, the rally is a boon to the local economy.
The Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce and the county tourism office will be enticing the visitors to venture beyond the rally site — most RV'ers tow along a car for local forays — by supplying them with goody bags containing discount coupons and trinkets advertising various businesses.
"I think (member spending) will be bigger than it was before," said Eller, of Alabama, who with his wife, Lorna, is a full-time motor home resident and traveler. "The local community has been really kind to us."
He said one of his priorities for this year's rally is to encourage participants to connect with the local community.
Among the early registrants are more than 300 first-time participants, translating to some 600 visitors.
"For many, it's their first time in Hernando County," Eller said.
Also, while the RV visitors spend nights in their coaches, many of the 218 vendors at the rally stay in motels, adding cash to the local economy.
Eller also wants to spread the word about public day passes to the rally — $7 per person daily or $10 for a three-day pass — which include parking and daytime access to the vendors' tent and motor coach dealers' displays.
Not only are the passes attractive to area residents who might be considering the purchase of an RV, but also to campers who spend the winter in local RV parks, Eller said.
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]