Gas prices put crimp in tourism

Wednesday, May 28, 2008
AARON EISENHAUER ~ aeisenhauer@semissourian.com High gas prices could have a serious impact on summer travel plans.

Several local tourist attractions saw a decrease in the number of visitors this Memorial Day weekend as statewide averages for gasoline went up and total statewide gas sales went down.

The Conservation Campus Nature Center in Cape County Park North had 262 visitors this weekend compared with 346 during Memorial Day weekend in 2007, according to Steve Juhlin, the center's assistant manager. Bollinger Mill near Highway 34 west of Jackson reported it had 198 visitors this past weekend; during the same weekend last year, it had 336 visitors.

"I don't think these numbers come as a surprise to anyone," said Chuck Martin, executive director for the Convention and Visitors Bureau in Cape Girardeau. Martin cited high gas prices as a chief reason for the decline.

"I think the average family is having to take a step back and evaluate," he said.

Gas up nearly 26 percent

Fuel prices in Missouri have risen sharply since the beginning of 2008. The average price for one gallon of regular unleaded fuel in January was $2.85 in Missouri, according to Mike Right, a spokesman for AAA; the statewide May average as of Tuesday was $3.59, an increase of almost 26 percent in just under five months. The average for Tuesday was $3.75.

The increases in the prices of diesel fuel were even greater. The average statewide price was $3.24 per gallon in January; as of Tuesday, the statewide average for May was $4.27, an increase in the monthly average of nearly 32 percent. The average for Tuesday was $4.60.

According to the Missouri Department of Revenue, the number of gallons of gas sold has decreased by 1.56 percent for the first four months of the year compared to the same months in 2007.

In response to high fuel prices, Martin said that the Convention and Visitors Bureau has plans for a new advertising campaign beginning July 1. The campaign will focus on portraying Cape Girardeau as a closer, regional vacation site for people in surrounding states and in St. Louis and Memphis, Tenn.

Martin would not discuss specific ideas, but he said that he said there might be some reduced prices available for travelers.

"You will see some creative things done on the offering of a reduced amount for certain things," Martin said.

One visitor to the Conservation Campus on Tuesday, Clara Kowalczyk of Arnold, Mo., said fuel prices were a factor in her travel plans. Kowalczyk said that she and her friend had decided not to come any farther than Cape Girardeau because of high fuel prices.

"We're just going to do this one trip, then we're going to stay back in our own neck of the woods after that," Kowalczyk said. "Anything we do will be right there."

Some local residents have expressed concern about traveling this summer with high gas prices. Tom Weiss of Cape Girardeau said he and his wife have already cut back their traveling from roughly four times a year to a couple.

"We're going to cut back even more now with high fuel prices," he said.

Weiss and his wife will travel to Miami, Fla., in July for their son's wedding but will probably not see some of their other family that is in New Mexico or Iowa this year because of high fuel prices.

Weiss is in the process of making changes with vehicles his family owns in addition to traveling less. During the 100-Mile Yard Sale over the weekend, he sold his large Harley-Davidson motorcycle for a smaller sportster. He has also been more persistent in selling the family motor home because it costs $200 per day to drive it 450 miles.

"We've started curtailing those long trips on account of high fuel prices in the motor home. If we don't sell it, we'll start using it for shorter trips," Weiss said.

tthomas@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 197

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