Weekend travel curbed across the country
By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on September 4, 2005 2:07 AM
By TURNER WALSTON
and KARINNE YOUNG
News-Argus Staff Writers
Droves of drivers who had looked forward to end-of-summer road trips to the mountains, beach or elsewhere this Labor Day weekend were scrapping their plans in response to high gas prices and lengthening lines at the pump across the country.
In Wayne County, some travelers chose to stay home, either out of fear they would become stranded due to a fuel shortage caused by panicked buying in other states or because of the cost of filling up a gas tank on a road trip.
Although two Goldsboro travel agents said they had not had many cancellations for the holiday weekend, they said continued higher prices could put a damper on the travel industry.
"If the gas situation continues, it would have an effect on all the economy," said Eileen Conekin, manager-agent at All About Travel in Cobblestone Square.
While higher prices would hurt the poor first, eventually even those who are well-off would feel the pinch, she said.
Mrs. Conekin thinks the effect on the travel industry could eventually surpass that of Sept. 11.
Following the 2001 terror attacks, the airline industry suffered financially and has yet to fully recover.
The same thing could happen again because the cost of jet fuel is skyrocketing and major airports in the hurricane region have closed, said Stefanie Hawkins, a travel consultant with Quixote Travels on Spence Avenue.
She said high fuel prices could also have a long-term affect on the cruise industry because of the amount of fuel used by the ships.
"We've sold a lot more travel insurance lately," she added.
Mrs. Conekin said she would probably stick to her weekend plans to go the river, "but it might be the last trip for awhile."
Mrs. Hawkins said people in her office and friends had mostly canceled plans for this weekend, "deciding to lay low, stay in town and keep their gas tanks full."
And for those who are feeling a little better because gas prices have started to stabilize a bit, there is still time to hit the road -- and maybe find a bargain.
Employees of area hotels say they are experiencing cancellations and have rare vacancies for this weekend.
"We've had three or four cancellations, and we asked why they were cancelling, and they said it's due to the gas," said Sarbdeep Sing on Thursday. Sing is the operations manager at Comfort Suites on North Park Drive.
Sing said the hotel could be forced to raise rates in the near future, due to increased delivery prices on goods.
"If the commodity rates go up, then we will have to do that," he said. "If the gas prices keep going up, we have to increase it. We are just looking at the situation, and will do that if we need to."
Rose Lindsey of Days Inn said the hotel had several cancellations for the weekend, and she expected more.
"We've had a couple people say they just won't be able to make it. We think we're going to see a lot more of that in the next couple weeks."
Laura Carroll of Holiday Inn Express said she had not experienced cancellations due to gas prices, but that the hotel was monitoring the situation.
"We're in the wait and see mode," she said. "We tend to have a policy of staying steady, and that's worked for us in the past."
Erin Wilmot of Hampton Inn said the hotel would normally be full for the Labor Day weekend.
"We are definitely not," she said. Guests planning to come from out-of-state called Hampton Inn to check gas prices, Ms. Wilmot said. "There's just tons of rumors about how we don't have any gas."
Panicked buying this past week was blamed for some of the gas stations running dry in states that ranged from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, West Virginia to Wisconsin.
"We don't want to get caught out there trying to get gas," said Lucius Monroe, who had planned for weeks to leave this weekend with his wife on a monthlong, cross-country trip to Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone and the Hoover Dam.
The retired couple postponed the trip this week after they saw gas lines stretching into the streets and prices hovering around $4 per gallon in their suburban Atlanta neighborhood.
"People are on the edge. They just want to be reassured there's going to be gas wherever they're going," said Garrett Townsend, manager of a AAA office in Atlanta, which was being deluged with calls from members inquiring about gas availability.
While it will be weeks before all eight of the Gulf refineries that shut down are back in action, some key pipelines had resumed partial service by Thursday. However, analysts said it would take days, if not longer, for the supply constraints to be worked out of the system.
Hotels were bracing for a hit. The Westin Hotel in popular Hilton Head, S.C., is getting peppered with cancellation calls, said front desk agent Jennifer Hussey. In nearby Myrtle Beach, S.C., a clerk at a Holiday Inn Express said a dozen people called to scrap their stays, many of them citing gas concerns.
For those opting to fly this weekend, airlines were assuring customers that their jets will have enough fuel even though daily jet fuel production has been cut more than 10 percent because of hurricane damage to Gulf Coast refineries.
In West Palm Beach, Fla., Maria Ortega canceled a trip to visit family in Miami this weekend because of the rising prices. "It's getting so expensive. You can't just keep driving without thinking about it," Ortega said.
For Jim Watson, who pays $100 to fill up his Silverado, driving up to Virginia from Georgia for a half-marathon this weekend just didn't make sense anymore. Instead, he said, he and five friends "are all piling into a Toyota."
-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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