The thought of gassing up for a cross-country – or even crosstown – vacation is enough to unleash an expletive-filled rant worthy of Chevy Chase’s Clark W. Griswold.
According to a report in the Sacramento Bee, with fuel costs hovering around $4 a gallon, many motorists and recreation enthusiasts are rethinking and reworking spring and summer travel plans.
Count the Jones family of Citrus Heights among those cutting back. Gone are the days when this family of seven would pile into their Honda Odyssey van and go for a drive.
Julie Jones, 36, said the family will wrap their summer vacation in with a roughly 300-mile trip to San Luis Obispo to celebrate her grandparents’ anniversary.
“When we’re going down there, we’ll include vacation time in that instead of traveling somewhere else or at another time,” she said.
Consolidating trips and staying longer will be a common theme among summer travelers, judging from interviews with consumers and travel experts.
Forty percent of adults expect to take fewer trips in the next four months because of the cost of gasoline, and 74% of those surveyed expect to reduce the number of trips by at least two, according to a recent study by the global market research firm TNS Omnibus.
If gas prices stay high, people stay home, or close to it. Consequently, cities such as Sacramento will see a drop in tourism dollars, said Mike Testa, senior vice president of convention sales and business developments for the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Sacramento is a drive-in destination,” he said. “Anytime you have higher fuel prices, it impacts the amount of distance travelers will come from.”
When gas prices shot up a few years ago over Labor Day weekend – right in time for Sacramento Gold Rush Days – the event was attended more heavily by locals than out-of-towners.
“If history is the model, I think where we’ll feel it most are on those three-day holidays –
Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day,” Testa said.
Spending by locals who decide against travel might soften the loss, but won’t completely cover it.
“Visitors typically spend more than a local would,” Testa explained.
When gas prices inch up, recreational vehicle owners also tend to seek destinations closer to home. In addition, they stay in one place longer and trim costs in other areas, said Debbie Sipe, executive director of the Auburn-based California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC).
“They still end up going camping, but they buy the hot dogs instead of going out for a steak dinner,” she said. “They’re still going, but are spending money in different ways.”
Despite the recession and rising gas prices over the past few years, occupancy rates have held steady at about 55% to 60% at privately owned RV parks and campgrounds in California, she said.
Unlike other segments of the travel industry, which have seen double-digit downturns, camping has had almost no downturn in occupancy, she said.
“Americans feel that a vacation is a birthright, and they’re going to go. They’re just going to go with what they can afford,” Sipe said. “RVing and camping is an affordable alternative. … Plus, it offers good quality family time that you don’t necessarily get on other kinds of trips.”