Will high gas prices actually help Minnesota tourism?by Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
As the summer vacation season approaches, the high price of gas is on the mind of many travelers. It's also something folks in the tourism industry are thinking about. But high gas prices aren't likely to hurt summer travel in Minnesota, and in fact some tourism officials see it as a potential boost.
Paynesville, Minn. — A construction crew is working at a frantic pace along central Minnesota's Lake Koronis. They're building a four-bedroom lakeside resort cottage. It's already booked for the middle of June, so they need to get it done fast.
Resort owner Paul Bugbee stands among the piles of scrap wood and piney smelling sawdust on the cottage's wide-open second floor. Bugbee is owner of the appropriately named Bug-Bee Hive Resort. With a name like that, you'd expect equally creative labels for the resort's 20-plus cottages.
"This is the Drone cottage," Bugbee said. "We've got other cottages, the Hornet's Nest, the Wasp's Nest, the Queen Bee, and the King Bee, and we've got a couple of odd ones like the Bee Suite, and the Bee Haven."
The majority of Bugbee's guests come from the Twin Cities and southern Minnesota. Bookings for this summer are solid, but Bugbee knows high gas prices are a concern for some travelers. He hopes people do the math. While gas prices may be 80 cents higher than they were last year, Bugbee figures the typical trip for most of his customers will only cost $25 to $30 more.
"They may have to clip a few more coupons to save that $25 for gasoline, but a lot of people are still going to take that vacation and we're happy about that," Bugbee said.
Bugbee considers himself in competition with places like Disney World and Disney Land. He claims with high gas prices, those are the types of destinations that Minnesota travelers are likely to think twice about. Joan Hummel with the Minnesota Department of Tourism agrees.
"They're modifying their plans, but they're not staying home," Hummel said.
If Minnesotans decide putting thousands of miles on their car this summer is too expensive, Hummel expects attractions closer to home will benefit.
"Because we draw primarily from the Midwest and from Minnesota itself, if folks are forgoing the cross country trips, and looking for a closer to home vacation, Minnesota has a good opportunity to attract those travelers," Hummel said.
Minnesota tourism is less affected by high gas prices than states like South Dakota and Montana. Those states rely heavily on drawing tourists from across the country. South Dakota has offered out of state travelers $20 dollar gas vouchers, although that program is currently on hold because of overwhelming demand. Montana officials have considered offering $50 vouchers.
And while travelers may grumble about the price of gas, most people are like Dave Benson.
"It is what it is. I guess you have to pay what the going price is. It's not at that point yet where it's too expensive to go," Benson said.
Benson, who lives in the west central Minnesota town of Benson, is taking a trip to Manitoba this summer with his wife and their two teenage sons. Last summer when his family traveled to Montana he spent time fretting about high gas prices, and that's when gas was cheaper. This summer Benson figures mile for mile their family trip may cost a bit more, but it's worth it.
"We decided that the kids will only be willing and able to go with us for another couple of years so we've got to go while we can," Benson said.
AAA estimates 31.4 million people will travel by car this long Memorial Day weekend, a small increase over last year. And like Minnesota tourism officials, the AAA says this summer people won't stop traveling because of high gas prices, but they might stay closer to home.
- Morning Edition, 05/29/2006, 7:25 a.m.