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Despite strong pre-reservation activity at campgrounds in Montana, operators were in a wait-and-see mode with regard to the impact of rising gasoline costs for the Labor Day weekend, according to the Billings Gazette.
“Some of the retired couples on the campground now are talking about cutting trips short because gas prices took a big jump,” said Diane Devine, a campground owner in Livingston, noting her end-of-summer business had slowed after a relatively good year.
So far, gasoline prices don’t seem to have had much effect on summer travel in Montana, said Betsy Baumgart, administrator of Travel Montana. But she said officials would be watching tourists’ reaction to the latest price spikes, on the heels of Hurricane Katrina.
“Historically what we’ve been told is, as long as there’s not a shortage of gas, it won’t affect travelers coming to the state,” she said. “But I think prices are really starting to escalate at a rate we haven’t seen.”
In Montana, motorists Thursday (Sept. 1) were paying an average $2.61 a gallon for regular unleaded, a state record, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report. That was up 3 cents from the day before and about 30 cents from a month ago, the report said. The national average was $2.68 a gallon.
Denice Harris, a spokeswoman for AAA MountainWest, said she doesn’t see any relief in sight, noting that Katrina disrupted distribution and production as it battered the Gulf Coast. “Prices aren’t going down anytime soon,” she said.
Still, she expects Westerners to hit the road this weekend. In a survey before the hurricane, AAA estimated 34.5 million people would travel at least 50 miles from home over the weekend and that 8.9 million would be in the West.
Harris said high gas prices probably won’t be enough to keep many in the West at home.
“I’ve found that this whole summer. And it’s just part of our culture, especially in the West. People are used to getting in the car and driving,” she said. “They’re pretty stubborn about giving that up.”
Rick Hoeninghausen, director of sales and marketing for Xanterra Parks and Resorts at Yellowstone Park, said he doesn’t believe high gas prices were an issue this summer and that he doesn’t expect them to keep tourists away.