Driving Miss Daisy? Only If Nearby …


Another three-day Memorial Day weekend's not just down the road – it's actually here – and with it comes the opportunity for summertime travel. But with the price of gas nearly as high as the sky on a clear summer day, this year's road is a rocky one, with potential misadventures of dented wallets and crashed credit cards looming on the horizon.

To find out what travelers can expect, several travel-industry some experts weighed in on the subject of driving to favorite destinations this summer.

"In the past, with high gas prices, we've done okay, but it wasn't headed to $3.50 a gallon and more either," said Robert Uguccioni, executive director of the Pocono Mountains Vacation Bureau, Inc., Stroudsburg, Pa. "As with past gas crunches, we saw [people take] closer trips to nearby places from both Philadelphia and New York – and we are near to both. We expect shorter trips to our nearby places this summer.

Each year, the Poconos attract hundreds of thousands of people, especially families.

"So far," Uguccioni continued, "we haven't seen a dip in inquiries and reservations, but we have changed a bit the way we talk about the Poconos. Now, it's not so much about the outdoors as about how close we are."

Without being specific, he did mention the possibility that certain hotels in the Poconos may even be prepared to offer gas as a travel incentive this summer.

In previous years, Pocmont Resort and Conference Center in Bushkill had done this sort of thing. When reached, the resort's marketing director Jeff Greksa said that it was still a bit too early to clarify if the resort would do the same thing this year.

As summer approaches, travelers will do their best to hit the road – whether to the mountains or to the shore, and its 127 miles of inviting coastline.

At the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority, executive director Jeff Vasser commented: "We are watching and waiting to see what happens, but what might happen is that the high price of gas could help us actually since many people will say, 'Let's take a shorter trip this summer.'

"Instead of driving, for example, to the Outer Banks of North Carolina this year, they'll stay closer to home and go to the Jersey Shore," he said. "That helps Atlantic City and helps other resort towns along the Jersey shore, too, an area that is still within one tankful of gas of one-third of the U.S. population."

At this time, according to Vasser, with room reservations still strong and a record April for the casinos in the books, there are no special gas-related offers from Atlantic City's hotels.

'Less Miles, More Smiles'
Due south of Atlantic City – in the resort town of Cape May – director of tourism for Cape May County Diane Wieland also expects people to take trips "closer to home" this summer, which ties in with the county's official new tourism slogan, "Less Miles, More Smiles."

Explained Wieland: "Despite tightening our advertising radius, and with discretionary income down, the Greater Philadelphia area, from which we get 27 percent of our visitors, remains a big market for us. Overall indicators are good – strong inquiries, strong reservations, strong bookings – so we expect a very strong summer season here that will build on the half-a-billion dollar tourism increase we had in 2005."

Wieland said that the trend toward more last-minute decisions and reservations will continue, but Philadelphians will still come because Cape May and other summer points in Cape May County are such familiar places, and laden with summer memories: "We are 'down the shore' to Philadelphians and as 'comfortable as old sneakers.' "

From year to year, 78 percent of all visitors to the county are repeat visitors, she noted, with families' second and third generations now coming.

Among Cape May's well-known hotels is the Atlas Inn, a 90-room property on Beach Avenue, where owner Ruth Satt said that "the high price of gas may be a good thing for us, since people may not want to drive too far away on vacation this coming summer."

Satt and her husband Harry, who died 15 years ago, built the hotel, popular with Philadelphia visitors, more than 30 years ago. Born in Europe, they met and married after World War II, during which Harry had been in a concentration camp. After marrying, they moved first to New York City, then to the Jersey shore.

One summer traveler, Lynn Greenfield, clinical program director at Home of the Sparrow, a transitional housing program for homeless women and children in West Chester, said that the high price of gasoline would "definitely affect [her] family's travel plans."

"We are planning a family trip closer to home, going to Maryland's eastern shore, instead of driving farther south this year. My daughter and her husband have decided to simply join the local Y, where they can use the pool rather than drive to the shore," said the Chester County resident.



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