Will pain at the pump deter Summit County visitors? | SummitDaily.com

Will pain at the pump deter Summit County visitors?

A motorist finishes pumping gas to his car at an Arco station in Federal Way, Wash. on Monday, March 7, 2011. Pump prices have jumped an average of 39 cents per gallon since the Libyan uprising began in mid-February, forcing motorists to pay an additional $146 million per day for the same amount of fuel. (AP photo/ The News Tribune, Peter Haley)
AP | The News Tribune

Drivers stopping to refuel no doubt have noticed the numbers at the pump climbing recently. Analysts are expecting prices to climb even higher in the coming weeks, and possibly spiking above $4 this summer. With the possibility gas costs will continue to increase, could Summit County lose out on tourism dollars?

Well, maybe not, says Ralf Garrison, the founder and director of the Advisory Group, which provides marketing services to destination resorts around the county.

Garrison said while gas prices are certainly a factor for vacationers, the problem is bigger for those flying to the region as opposed to driving.

“Transportation costs in general are a primary consideration. The further a person travels, the bigger the influence,” Garrison said. “If you’re coming from Australia, the travel component of your vacation is a greater percentage of the overall costs. If you live in Colorado Springs and you’re coming up for the weekend, the travel component is relatively smaller.”

Garrison said Summit County might lose out on tourists scared away by high plane ticket prices, but gain in visitors who live in or near Colorado and decide not to fly somewhere else.

“Because this problem gets greater the further away a guest is from their destination, we lose some people from the longer haul market. But then we offset by people who are in Colorado and might have been thinking about going to San Diego for the summer, and say ‘Heck with it, I’ll just go to the mountains,'” he said.

Denver resident Kristin Opitz said rising gasoline costs don’t keep her from driving up to the county, mostly because she’s trying to get her money’s worth from her season pass. However, she said increasing fuel prices would make her reconsider flying further away for a weekend trip.

“I think the rise in flight costs might make me think twice about buying a plane ticket,” she said. “I think in general people are more likely to stay in-state if flights get really expensive.”

Rachel Zerowin, director of public relations at the Breckenridge Resort Chamber, said climbing gas prices are certainly something the chamber considers, but doesn’t see as a huge threat.

“We haven’t seen negative effects so far,” she said.

Zerowin said if rising fuel costs continue, Breckenridge might see fewer visits from people who travel to the mountains multiple times a year, but there’s a chance they might stay longer when they do visit.

“We hope the value of Breckenridge is still enough to draw people here,” she said.

Garrison said tourists intent on a mountain vacation won’t be deterred by fuel costs.

“The people who we tend to keep are those determined to visit the mountains,” Garrison said.

The recent turmoil in the Middle East, along with a high demand for oil, have pushed oil prices over $100 a barrel for only the second time in history. On Monday, gas reached a national average of $3.51 per gallon, a 14 cent spike from the past week. At this time last year, the national average was $2.75. Analysts expect prices to climb even higher in the coming weeks as refiners switch to a more expensive blend of gasoline designed to help protect against evaporation during the warmer summer months.

The U.S. Department of Energy says gas prices will average $3.70 this summer, with the possibly of reaching over $4 a gallon.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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