LANSING – As $2-a-gallon gas prices loom for the approaching peak summer
travel and tourism months, experts say rising fuel costs could actually help
tourism in the state.
The projected short-term spike at the pumps could cause Michigan residents, as well as those in neighboring states, to vacation closer to home. That type of vacationer makes up 90 percent of tourists in the state annually, said Donald Holecek, director of the Travel, Tourism and Recreation Resource Center at Michigan State University.
“If supply is there, people don’t feel like there will be a shortage,” he said. “The real big hit is when stations actually run out of gas.”
Holecek said weather and consumer confidence affect tourism more than gasoline prices, as long as any rise is gradual.
“If the mushrooms are out up north this weekend, people aren’t going to say, ‘Well, gas has gone up 25 cents,’” he said.
According to AAA of Michigan, 80 percent of motorists say gas prices have no impact on their traveling.
“High gas prices don’t deter travel and they might help,” said Jim Rink of AAA. “They may look to stay around home.”
Fuel experts anticipate the price of gasoline to cost more than $2 a gallon during top driving months through Labor Day. The average cost of self-serve, regular unleaded gasoline in Michigan is up 7 cents during the third week of April, setting a new record for the month of April with a price of $1.834 a gallon, 31.5 cents higher that last year’s average.
The state could break its highest average price for a gallon gas, which was set in June 2000 at $2.07. The average gallon of gas cost $1.44 a gallon in April 2000.
According to Lansing-based polling firm EPIC-MRA, prices would have to rise above $3 a gallon for Michigan motorists to reconsider their travel habits.
“The public isn’t overly moved,” said Ed Sarpolus, vice president of EPIC-MRA. “For those who drive a Hummer, the impact isn’t as great because they’re already paying a ton at the pump.”
Sarpolus said middle-income consumers who drive more fuel-efficient automobiles and also vacation might feel some impact.
Travel Michigan officials, who promote state tourism as part of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., say many Michigan residents plan to travel and they expect tourism to be up.
“You can get from one side of the state to the other on 2 1/2 tanks of gas,” said Kirsten Borgstrom of Travel Michigan. “Cleveland, Indianapolis and Chicago are only a gas tank away.”
Tourism pumps roughly $15 billion into Michigan’s economy, the second-largest industry — only manufacturing is greater. Two-thirds of vacationers in the state are Michigan residents, according to Travel Michigan.
© 2004, Capital News Service, Michigan State University
School of Journalism
© 2004, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism