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Free gas! Aspen entices travelers

JANET URQUHART

ASPEN – Vacation destinations are counting on summer travelers to hit the road despite the escalating cost of gasoline, but as an added enticement, offers of free gas are popping up faster than the price at the pumps.

A number of Aspen hotels and condo properties made headlines this week with the lure of a free tank full at a local station for those who book a stay of more than three nights.

ResortQuest International, which books accommodations in Aspen/Snowmass and other vacation hot spots, is offering a card worth $20 of free gas with a two-night stay and a $40 gas card for anyone staying three or more nights.

The deal is available at properties in 16 of ResortQuest’s domestic vacation markets. Steve Schein, vice president of ResortQuest’s western region, believes the offer will have an impact.

A lot of ResortQuest’s summer guests in Colorado drive from places like Denver and Salt Lake City. Twenty or 40 bucks worth of gas will cover a lot of that distance, he reasoned.

“Certainly, we’re trying to add some value and make it easier,” he said.

Utah’s Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas is going even further, promising to cover $200 worth of gas receipts for visitors from Colorado, Arizona, California and Utah, who are willing to book a 59-foot houseboat for five or more days. Reservations must be booked by the end of June, but the vacation can be taken through the end of September.

The houseboat also comes with $700 worth of free fuel for trips taken by Aug. 15.

Although gas prices seem to be climbing almost daily – the price of regular unleaded gas in downtown Aspen was $2.57 per gallon early this week and $2.66 Friday (in Summit County prices ranged from $1.95 to $2.19 on Friday) – the travel industry is predicting an upswing in vacation travel this summer.

The Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) is forecasting a 3.2 percent increase in leisure travel this summer. According to the TIA, Americans will take more than 334 million person-trips between June and August (a person-trip is one individual traveling 50-plus miles, one way, from home).

Among a ranking of the top 10 destinations this summer, Colorado is No. 5, according to the TIA.

Aspen Square Hotel general manager Warren Klug expects visitors to come as usual. Bookings for the summer are up at the condominium hotel, which is participating in the “Aspen’s Got (Free) Gas” promotion.

The free gas may not lure a lot of travelers who weren’t coming anyway, but it has great promotional value, Klug reasoned.

“I think it’s tremendous PR. It puts us out in the marketplace and it’s fun,” he said. “We’ll give away some gas and hopefully some more folks will come our way.”

Klug doesn’t expect gas prices to keep people at home.

“I think that, in general, the added gas cost is not going to have a huge impact on our Aspen summer visitor,” he said. “The extra cost isn’t going to deter people from taking their vacations.”

A jump in the price of gas isn’t necessarily a huge cost in the context of a vacation, Klug noted.

According to the American Automobile Association’s online fuel cost calculator, the 1,996-mile round-trip drive between Los Angeles and Denver would cost $228.84 for someone driving a 2003 Ford Explorer. That cost reflects an average cost of $2.17 per gallon for gas.

If gas prices suddenly jumped to $2.50 per gallon, it would add $33.81 to the cost of the trip.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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