The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 2, 2012

Gasoline prices fueling U.S. travel for Fourth

JOPLIN, Mo. — When James McDowell saw that gasoline was selling for $3.02 a gallon on Monday in Joplin, he decided to top off his tank.

“Considering what it has been, it’s down quite a bit,” said the 73-year-old resident of Baxter Springs, Kan.

McDowell was in Joplin to attend a funeral. He’s not planning to travel anywhere over the Fourth of July holiday. But he’s glad just the same for cheaper gasoline.

“We can get out and do more when it’s cheap,” he said, laughing at the notion that $3.02 a gallon is now considered cheap. “I remember when gas was 14.9 cents a gallon. Now that was cheap.”

Regular gasoline was selling for $3.02 a gallon on a cash basis at Mac’s convenience store, 2703 E. 32nd St. It was a bit higher at $3.06 a gallon if one used a credit card.

Gasoline prices are poised to fall below $3 a gallon this week. Gas already is selling for $2.99 a gallon in Tulsa, Okla. It was down to $3.01 a gallon on Monday in Springfield.

That compares with a Missouri average price of $3.82 a gallon for regular gasoline in April.

The drop in fuel costs is a factor in the significant increase in travel that is expected this week, according to Mike Right, spokesman for AAA of St. Louis.

“This Fourth of July holiday, 42.3 million Americans are expected to travel, an increase of 4.9 percent overall when compared to last year,” he said.

About 35.5 million Americans are predicted to journey by car, a 4 percent increase. Air travel is expected to be up more than 9 percent.

“It’s been quite a while — since 2007 — that we have had this many travelers over the Fourth,” Right said. “In 2007, the Fourth fell on Wednesday, so Wednesday is good.”

Right said a midweek holiday tends to increase the number of travelers who combine either the two days before the holiday or the two days after to make a mini-vacation. That was bolstered by evidence that Friday was a heavy travel day across the U.S., he said.

There is some uncertainty about whether gasoline prices will continue to fall. Right said he is concerned about a bump in crude oil prices of 9.4 percent on Friday. Speculators are hopeful that Europe will recover from its economic crisis.

Right said: “It’s the more positive news coming out of Europe. Crude oil was depressed over concerns about a reduction in demand and the lack of economic activity there. There is now an anticipation that economic activity will heat up there.”

When the year started, the outlook for Joplin’s hotel district was favorable because gasoline prices were lower than $3 a gallon. But by early April, prices were approaching $4 a gallon.

“We were excited about the outlook, but that dissolved at the end of the first quarter,” said Pete Hall, manager of the Residence Inn by Marriott in Joplin. “The big concern was $4-a-gallon gas, and it looked like it was going to go a lot higher.

“That’s when we revised our expectations downward. We knew it would have a terrible impact on summer travel.”

Joplin’s hotel market, he said, has not experienced an upturn in reaction to the lower prices of late.

“It’s not worse, but it’s not better either,” Hall said. “I think people are reluctant to plan a trip too far out because they are skeptical of gas prices. There’s no stability.

“We think people will be making some last-minute decisions about travel this summer by taking a day or two and combining that with a weekend. We could see an uptick on weekends.”

Taking a day or two and combining that with a weekend appears to be what’s happening during this holiday week.

Kammy Bramlett, supervisor at the Missouri Welcome Center on Interstate 44, southwest of Joplin, said: “They’re headed for Branson, St. Louis, Lake of the Ozarks and Kansas City. Those are the hot destinations.”

More than 700 people visited the center on Friday and again on Saturday.

“A lot of times, we have one huge day and a couple of good days,” Bramlett said. “This week, it’s been continuous. We expected a busy week that will continue through Sunday. That’s when all of the Missourians that have left will come home.”

Had so many chosen not to travel on Friday and Saturday, the visitor totals for the center would have been down for the month of June.

“This June will be the same as last year,” Bramlett said. “In fact, it’s almost exactly the same amount of people. We had 15,078 people in June of last year. We had 15,073 in June this year.”

All of the motorists, she said, have one thing in common: “It’s hot, hot, hot — whether you are going east or west.”


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