With gasoline prices down over last summer, Americans are planning to hit the road this summer, which is good news for the Maine tourism industry.

In a survey of more than 65,000 of its members, GasBuddy, a website and smartphone app that helps consumers find cheap gas, found that more than 75 percent were planning to travel this summer, up 2.2 percent from last year. Not surprisingly, 79 percent of respondents planned to travel by car, according to the company’s annual summer travel study.

The local chapter of the American Automobile Association, AAA Northern New England, will issue its travel forecast Thursday, but spokesman Patrick Moody agreed that gas prices that are lower than last summer will likely spur an increase in people driving to Maine for day trips and overnight vacations.

Maine’s current price is $2.30 per gallon, according to AAA – close to the 2016 high, but 35 cents lower than the $2.65 per gallon of a year ago. Portland prices are about a penny more.

“Low gas prices are good news for Maine tourism,” said Jennifer Geiger of the state Office of Tourism. “We are a drive-to destination, with 75 percent of our visitors arriving by car. Our research shows that scenic touring is one of the top-rated activities for Maine, so low gas prices could certainly mean a boost.”

Geiger didn’t have any hard data on Memorial Day weekend or early season reservations, but she said hoteliers are telling the office unofficially that bookings are strong.


“Motorists will be filling up their tanks with the cheapest summer gasoline since 2005 and we are finding that more people than ever will be taking advantage by hitting the road,” said Patrick DeHaan, GasBuddy petroleum analyst. “Nationally, we’ll be saving $2.6 billion over the long weekend versus the highest-priced Memorial Day weekend in 2011.”

The GasBuddy survey found that more people are traveling for leisure than obligation, with 53 percent traveling to relax and take in local culture compared to 51 percent last year. The survey also found 56 percent of travelers who participated in the national survey plan to drive at least 400 miles round trip, 36 percent are planning at least two summer road trips in 2016 and day trips are up 4 percent.

State officials hope to build on last year’s strong season. Maine enjoyed a 4 percent increase in overnight stays and 4.6 percent increase in day visits in 2015 over the previous year, Geiger said. While the summer remained the height of the season, drawing 24.3 million of the state’s 33.9 million annual visitors, Maine saw a big increase in fall visits, with 12.8 percent more travelers in September, October and November than in 2014.

A strong summer season would be good news for the state’s 1,000 gas stations, but not necessarily for the reason you would think. The owners of gas stations make their money off of the food, drinks and alcohol they sell in their convenience stores, not from the small percentage of what they earn off gas sales at the pump, said Jamie Py, head of Maine Energy Marketers Association, a gas station trade group that represents about 120 state petroleum retailers.

Vacationing drivers are more likely to step inside the store and buy products with a good profit margin for the Shell or Mobil franchisee than someone fueling up on a daily commute to work, Py said. Maine franchisees really need that boost this summer because they are coming off a bad winter season, when warm weather hurt their traditionally strong sales to snowmobilers, Py said.

It’s still too early to tell where gas prices may head over the summer, Moody said. Gas prices can fluctuate due to unpredictable factors, like hurricanes in the Gulf Coast and foreign unrest. But demand for gas leading into the summer driving season often pushes prices up – crude oil prices are nearing $50 a barrel this week – and it’s likely that prices are heading for a new 2016 high in the coming days.

For consumers in Maine and across most of the country, however, prices are still lower now than they were a year ago, Moody noted. The average price per gallon, nationally, is $2.22, a bump of 11 cents month over month but still 48 cents less per gallon now than one year ago, according to a national AAA report issued Monday.

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: