Saturday, June 10, 2000

Gas prices may keep vacations closer to home




By Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Skyrocketing gasoline prices might actually help fuel the Tristate tourism industry, experts say.

        “We're hoping people will say, "Let's just take a short jaunt to The Beach instead of driving all the way to Florida,' ” said Doug Martin, director of marketing and sales at The Beach Waterpark in Mason.

        The Tristate appeals most to travelers within a two-hour drive, said Barbara Dozier, vice president of sales and marketing at the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau.

        “That's not a painful amount of time to drive a couple of times a summer,” she said.

        In the past, increases in gasoline prices have caused people to take shorter but more-frequent vacations, said Tom Caradonio, also of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

        “A lot of times it works to your benefit if you are a regional destination like we are,” Mr. Caradonio said.

        The average out-of-state Ohio visitor drives only 500 miles round-trip, said Scott Dring, spokesman for the Ohio Division of Tourism. The No. 1 reason people visit Ohio is to see friends and family, he said, and that should not be affected by the high gas prices. But the majority of Ohio tourists, defined as those traveling more than 50 miles to reach an attraction, are from within the state.

        People take more weekend getaways and fewer extended vacations than they did even five years ago, said John Goss, director of the Indiana Tourism Division. Tristate tourism councils

        now emphasize that people take more trips closer to home.

        The American Automobile Association backs up claims that long trips are on the decline. The amount of TripTiks requested are down almost 6 percent from last year, said Jennifer Ledonne, AAA Cincinnati spokeswoman.

        Also, a national survey of AAA auto-travel managers indicates that summer auto travel is down 2.6 percent from last summer's rate, with the top factor being the high gas prices, Mrs. Ledonne said.

        Should gas prices top $2 a gallon for the cheapest grade, extended drives could decline even more drastically, according to a report from AAA and the Travel Industry Association of America. In a survey released in April by the Travel Industry Association, 43 percent of American drivers said they would seriously consider canceling their travel plans if gas prices reach $2 a gallon, while 15 percent said gas prices have little to no bearing on their travel plans.

        Paramount's Kings Island officials think the higher gas prices could work to their advantage. With more than 50 percent of the park's guests traveling 50 miles or less, Kings Island could be less costly and equally enter taining as Disney World. The park attracted 3.3 million visitors last year.

        “Typically when gas prices go up, people tend to stay closer to home,” said Jeff Siebert, spokesman for Kings Island.

        The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, which last year drew people from 38 states, has had an increase in attendance this year, said director of marketing Donna Oehler. But she is still cautious.

        “I hope we do well,” she said. “But it makes you kind of antsy with the high gas prices.”

        Kevin Aldridge contributed to this article.

Soaring costs can add up quickly
       



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