Rising Gas Costs Boost Camping at N.Y. Parks
Gasoline pump prices hit a new nationwide record this week, and that's apparently good news for more than the oil companies, according to an Associated Press report.
Camping reservations at state parks in New York are up nearly 16% over last year, Carol Ash, commissioner of the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said Thursday (April 17). As of early April, 52,186 reservations had been booked at state camping facilities. That's up from 45,034 at the same time last year. In all, state parks recorded 186,021 advance and walk-up camping reservations in 2007.
"With gasoline prices soaring, state parks are an attractive and inexpensive option for people looking to get away without driving too far," Ash said.
The department didn't anticipate the surge.
"Obviously, we're always trying to get the word out about the great local assets in New York state and encourage people to take full advantage of them, but we were surprised by this number," parks department spokeswoman Eileen Larrabee said. "Weather is always a factor. Maybe people are just planning more or earlier. Maybe last year they tried and got shut out, but we do believe it (the price of gas) is a factor."
It may be too early in the year to call it a trend, but travel experts are not surprised.
"It makes sense to me," said Michael Pina of AAA, the automobile association in Washington, D.C. "We've never done any research on that, but stuff I've seen from travel associations show that camping is one of the least expensive outdoor activities that's out there. And it's very popular with families. They can have an outdoor experience without having to drive too far from home."
ReserveAmerica is the largest provider of campsite reservations in North America, processing 4 million reservations a year at over 4,000 parks with more than 200,000 campsites and cabins. Last year, the company set a one-day record by booking roughly 67,000 camping nights and this year eclipsed that mark by 9,000. At its peak, the company's reservation system was processing more than 250 reservations every minute on Feb. 1.
AP reported that bookings for 2008 are up roughly 14% so far from a national standpoint, the company said.
"We see more trips within the consumer's home state, for a longer period versus your average weekend trip," said John McDonald, vice president of marketing and business development at ReserveAmerica, which is based in Ballston Spa, N.Y. "Gas prices may have a factor on that, but in general camping tends to remain strong. Only the trip duration or proximity may change with fuel pricing."
Gasoline pump prices hit a new nationwide record of $3.40 per gallon on Wednesday, up 53 cents from a year ago, according to the Oil Price Information Service and AAA, and many economists believe the price will hit $4 per gallon by Memorial Day.
"We're seeing record prices for gas pretty much every day," AAA's Pina said. "At this rate, it could get to that level."
If it does, expect many vacationers to put on the brakes, especially those driving gas guzzlers.
"We've been surveying RV owners for quite a while, and one of the questions we ask them is, 'What do you do when fuel prices go up?"' said Kevin Broom of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). "And what they tell us is they just stay closer to home. That doesn't surprise me at all."