Speculating about our gasoline future

Brief by Central Staff

Tourism – June 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

Since most of our tourists arrive by auto, and gasoline prices are high, what’s that mean for summer business in Central Colorado and the San Luis Valley?

The short answer is that no one knows, although it’s fun to speculate:

Even when unleaded regular is selling for $2 a gallon, many people still spend more for motel rooms and restaurant meals when on vacation; so gas prices may not be a determining factor. Presumably, if people want to take a vacation in the mountains, they will, assuming they have enough confidence in the economy to feel comfortable about spending the money — rather than saving it because they might need it when they’re laid off.

Most of Colorado’s summer tourists come from Texas or the Midwest, and those population centers are a considerable distance away: 1,000 miles to Chicago, 600 miles to Kansas City, 700 miles to Dallas, 1,000 miles to Houston. They might well want to save money by vacationing closer to home.

But there are also 3.5 million Coloradans along the Front Range, and many of them may decide to stay closer to home, too. For instance, they might visit the Great Sand Dunes (200 miles) rather than Yellowstone (600 miles), or ride the Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad (100 miles) rather than the Durango & Silverton (375 miles).

— Those who travel with their own lodging and cooking facilities, whether it’s with camping gear or a land yacht, don’t always shop locally anyway. So if high gas prices deter them, it will matter more to gas stations, convenience stores, Wal-Marts and private campgrounds than to gift stores, galleries, clothing stores, and downtown shops.

As we recall from the gasoline shortages and high prices of the late 1970s, (the last time we had a President with an “energy plan”), tourists worry more about the availability of gasoline than about its price. So as long as supplies are adequate, and there are no reports of shortages or rationing, then tourists should still come.

But the money that people spend on gasoline is money they can’t spend on something else, like souvenirs, fishing lures, or float trips. So where will they cut back? Or will they be spending more for less? In which case, do high gas prices mean inflation is just around the corner?

As we said, it’s all speculation. And we suspect that, even in the fall when there are some numbers, the reasons for those numbers will still be a matter for speculation.