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Summer travel seen not hurt by gas prices

Gas prices that have soared above $2 a gallon should be little more than a speedbump for a record number of American vacationers expected this summer, according to travel industry experts.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Gas prices that have soared above $2 a gallon should be little more than a speedbump for a record number of American vacationers expected this summer, according to travel industry experts.

"We don't think gas prices in and of themselves are going to keep people at home," Suzanne Cook, vice president of research for the Travel Industry Association of America, said during a national tourism forum Wednesday.

Earlier this week, the Travel Industry Association predicted summer travel would increase 3.2 percent over last summer for 334 million person trips in June, July and August.

That would get the United States' $552 billion travel industry off to its best summer start in years and continue the bounce in international visitors, air travel, hotel occupancy and theme park attendance seen since last winter.

"We see airlines and hotels and popular destinations filling up," said Cook, adding that Florida, California, Hawaii, New York and Colorado were at the top of the list.

But industry executives warned that gas prices could force motorists and airline travelers to dig deeper into their wallets.

Air travelers might see more expensive tickets this summer as airlines add surcharges to help cover the cost of oil prices surging past $40 a barrel, said John Selvaggio, president of the discount airline Song.

Higher gas prices also could lead travelers to take shorter trips closer to home or use more fuel-efficient vehicles, but the prices won't be that much of a drag on motorists, said Mark Brown, executive vice president at AAA Travel.

"For people taking vacations, we're only talking about an extra $20 or $40," Brown said. "If oil gets to $50 a barrel and gas prices get to the high end of two dollars, you'll see changes in travel behavior."

Cook cautioned that the optimism about summer travel was tempered by the concerns about affordability since travel prices have risen 7 percent since December.

"People are aware that prices are going up," Cook said.

The rising price of gas didn't stop Odulia Brown and her son, Ian Blackwood, from driving the 800 miles from Virginia for an Orlando vacation. But they decided to skip a trip to Seaworld Orlando to help offset the extra driving cost from the $2-a-gallon-price they found at pumps in Florida.

"I don't think we knew gas was going to be two dollars and change," Blackwood said Wednesday before entering Universal Orlando. They were only paying about $1.75 per gallon in Newport News, Va., last week before they left on their trip.