Tourism PR pros discuss the effect of gas prices on business

NEW YORK: The tourism industry is warily eying gas prices as soaring costs to fill tanks force destinations and their agencies to contemplate how to target car-bound customers.

NEW YORK: The tourism industry is warily eying gas prices as soaring costs to fill tanks force destinations and their agencies to contemplate how to target car-bound customers.

While many experts say that, historically, gas prices have not slowed summer travel, some say this season is different. Virginia Sheridan, president of M. Silver Associates, cautioned that "gas hikes were usually short term and not as dramatically high" in the past.

She says that destinations might begin catering to drivers concerned about the pump if they see sagging visits.

"There have been instances where a hotel will throw in a tank of gas," she said.

Rob Dondero, EVP of R&R Partners, which represents The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said that his agency is keeping a close eye on the situation and has created a number of gas promotions and incentives for its clients that can be quickly rolled out if necessary.

Sheridan added that she expects resorts that offer many different experiences in a single place to do brisk trade. Other destinations may focus on being "close to home" or their proximity to public transportation. She envisions such a marketing push for the pedestrian-friendly cities of New Haven and Norwalk, CT, which she represents as the AOR for the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism.

"Some people won't address the gas topic head-on; they're [more likely to] say 'we're just a few miles up the road,'" she said.

Lou Hammond, president of Lou Hammond & Associates, which represents a number of luxury resorts, added that most in the high-end travel industry weren't concerned about the issue.

"For the $100,000 household, it will not affect their travel plans," Hammond said.

However, Karen Gee-McAuley, EVP at LA-based The Blaze Company, says that those diverse attraction destinations, such as Vegas resort casinos, may see customers spending less money once they arrive to make up for traveling costs.

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