High fuel costs deter July Fourth travel




By Paris Achen

Columbian staff writer

Many Clark County residents and other Americans are still largely deterred from traveling far from home this summer by high gas prices and skyrocketing airfares, but travel spending continues to inch up amid pent-up desire for a vacation in the wake of the Great Recession, according to two travel and tourism reports released this week by AAA and the U.S. Bureau of Economics.

AAA today projected a decrease of 2.3 percent in the number of Americans in the Pacific Region who will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Fourth of July weekend. About 6.19 million, or 12.2 percent of the population in Pacific Region, made up of Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska and Hawaii, were expected to take trips over the holiday weekend, between June 30 and July 4. The overall national projection was an even greater, a 2.5-percent decline in travelers.

“We used to do two vacations a year,” said Vancouver resident Steve Wahle. “My wife is a realtor, and I’m a general contractor, so we were hit the hardest (by the recession). We’re going camping somewhere in Washington this summer, and that’s pretty much it.”

Travel and tourism spending across the nation grew by a nominal 0.6 percent in the first quarter of 2011, a slowdown from the 2.6-percent uptick in the fourth quarter of 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economics.

However, the divide between those who can afford to travel and those who can’t also widened. The percentage of July Fourth travelers with a household income of $50,000 or less is projected to decrease from 41 percent to 33 percent as travelers with a household income of more than $100,000 are expected to climb from 26 percent to 35 percent, according to AAA.

Fuel costs were the main obstacle to travel, according to the economics bureau. In the past year, the average gas price climbed by 90 cents to $3.73 per gallon nationwide, said AAA. In Vancouver, the price went up by 89 cents to $3.82 per gallon.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551, paris.achen@columbian.com, Twitter@Col_Trends, www.Facebook.com/#!/pages/Paris-Achen