Skift Take

Rural destinations that have benefitted from long-haul road trippers will want to prepare for the impact of higher gas prices on consumer behavior, on the cusp of busy spring and summer seasons.

The huge demand for backyard leisure is set to continue in the U.S., as more Americans embrace the endemic phase of Covid and hit the road for spring break and summer vacations. But it’s now becoming clear that rising gas prices driven by the Russia-Ukraine war will have an effect on road trippers — and if ongoing, they could potentially dampen the overall record pace of U.S. travel recovery. 

Almost 60 percent of American travelers say that the current increased cost of gas will impact their decision to travel over the next six months. Of those, nearly one-third of respondents predict the impact for them will be great. That’s according to the latest Covid and American Travel Sentiment survey from Longwoods International. 

This new data is concerning for the U.S. travel industry, because while gas price increases — currently at a national average of $4.06 a gallon and the highest since 2008, according to AAA  — won’t cancel the American road trip, the higher cost will impact consumer behavior as far as how often travelers will choose to spend on the road this year as well as how far they venture.

“This increased expense might not only limit the number of trips travelers take, but also lead to selecting destinations closer to home or reducing their spending on items like meals, accommodations, and souvenirs as they travel,” said Amir Eylon, president and CEO of Longwoods International.

Longwoods International Chart on Rising gas price affecting travel

They are likely to stay at accommodations that offer a lower price point, Eylon said, including limited service properties. Long-haul road trips will also be fewer if gas prices continue to rise. 

“Fuel prices impact travel, our data has shown that repeatedly,” said Cree Lawson, CEO of location intelligence provider Arrivalist. “The majority of the travel’s economic impact comes from passenger vehicle travel. That’s the mainstay.”

Fresh data from Arrivalist’s Daily Travel Index, looking at the past three years, confirms a strong correlation between gas prices and domestic road trips of more than 50 miles.

arrivalist chart gas prices correlate long road trips

“If gas hit record levels then all bets are off — we’re in uncharted territory,” said Lawson. “If we hit $4 or $5 /gallon then we expect that will impact shorter road trips too. We’re hoping this is a pothole, not a roadblock. But time and markets will tell.”

The current most expensive markets for road trippers, per AAA, include California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania.

Still, a whopping 92 percent of respondents in Longwoods International’s survey said they plan to travel in the next six months. Just 21 percent indicated concern about Covid, compared to 33 percent a year ago, which is the lowest level since the pandemic. 

Visiting friends and relatives and road trips remain the leading activities for nearly half of Americans, according to the survey, with most intent on heading outdoors, but also visiting cities and theme parks, and attending events or festivals.

“When headwinds hit, Americans are domestic over international, drive over fly, somewhere cheap and easy over somewhere far and aspirational,” said Arrivalist’s Lawson. “But travel’s resilience remains. People are still hitting the road, at least from what we see in the data so far.”

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Tags: road trips, ukraine, usa

Photo credit: An ongoing spike in gas prices will have an impact on how far and how often Americans road trip this year. Clay Banks / Unsplash