Summer Travel Unfazed by Gas Prices
Friday, May 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
BOSTON (AP) â€” Gas prices are soaring, interest rates are rising and stock markets are taking investors for roller-coaster rides. For many Americans planning summer vacations, none of that seems to matter.
Tracy Rogers of Wausau, Wis., is putting less expensive fuel in his sport utility vehicle these days, but isn't cutting back on travel plans.
Rogers, 36, said he plans to take more diving and fishing trips this summer ``in spite of the gas prices. I am not going to change my personal life until it affects me.''
The AAA auto club predicts a record number of Americans will travel this Memorial Day weekend, which marks the start of the summer travel and tourism season. Of the total, 28.4 million will drive 100 miles or more, an increase of 3 percent over last year, and 6 million will travel by air, bus or train during the three-day holiday.
Rising fuel prices appear to weigh little on Americans' travel plans this summer, as record-low unemployment and rising wages are buoying spirits amid other uncertainties.
The Travel Industry Association of America said it expected 237 million Americans to travel this summer, up 3 percent from 1999. A survey it conducted last month indicated 54 percent of summer travelers said they wouldn't be influenced by gas prices. The rest said they'd travel but with a few concessions, such as shorter trips, fewer trips or trying to find less expensive lodging and food.
Sylvia Canfill, a part-time contractor working at Bell Atlantic in Boston, said she and her husband wanted to go to Las Vegas, but decided to go to either Atlantic City, N.J., or the Foxwoods resort in Ledyard, Conn.
``It's always an influence,'' Canfill said of travel costs. ``I'm semiretired, so cost is always a factor. It kind of stifles you, you know?''
The Federal Reserve earlier this month raised interest rates for the sixth time since June to try to stave off inflation and cool the red-hot economy. The move sent stocks, already well off their highs for the year, tumbling.
Gas prices, meanwhile, seem destined to rise above the current national average of $1.53 per gallon as supplies already are tight at the start of the peak summer driving season.
Prices of gasoline in commodities markets, which do not include retail markups or state and federal taxes, are approaching nine-year highs, rising above $1 a gallon on Thursday for the first time since early March.
Fred Leuffer, an oil analyst at Bear Stearns, said the Memorial Day weekend throng, coupled with the tight supplies, could push retail gas prices up an additional 8 cents to 10 cents per gallon.
``As drivers hit the road this summer, they're going to take a big hit in their back pocket,'' Leuffer said.
Still, Bruce Bentz, an owner of Capital R.V. in Bismarck, N.D., said he doesn't think higher gas prices will stop people from hitting the road.
``People are not going to change their lifestyles because of a couple of hundred extra dollars anymore,'' Bentz said. ``Gas prices have really been a non-issue â€” surprisingly so.''
Taressa Williams, a 37-year-old graphics specialist from Des Moines, Iowa, planned to drive 240 miles this weekend to visit relatives in Minneapolis. She said she didn't give much thought to the higher costs.
``Yeah, it costs me more to fill my tank, but it's not stopping me,'' she said. ``I get good mileage on my car ... Whatever it takes to fill my tank.''
One factor that could be easing the pinch of higher fuel costs is that most other vacation costs have remained steady compared with last year, said Jerry Cheske, a AAA spokesman.
``According to our guide books, lodging and meals still cost $213 a day for a family of four, the same as last year,'' Cheske said.
For some, cost just isn't a factor.
Gordon Elster, a South Dakotan who was on his way to North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park, seemed to have the kind of attitude tourism officials hope for.
``We were going to go, no matter what,'' he said.
On the Net: AAA stats: http://www.aaa.com/news
Travel Industry group: http://www.tia.org