Some scale back on spring travel as gas prices climb

Scott Griffin and his wife are canceling a trip to the Charleston area to visit relatives.

Marguerite Holm's taking her younger daughter to Wilmington to visit her older daughter, but the family won't be eating out - and, for certain, won't be going on any vacation shopping sprees.

Ed Simpson and his wife, Marney, canceled plans to take their two sons to Disney World next week for five days. Instead, the family's going to Myrtle Beach for three days.

As schools break for spring and Easter vacations begin to unfurl, climbing gas prices are altering plans of many people in the Charlotte region.

Thursday, the average price of regular gas in the region was up to $3.74, nearly $1 more than it was a year ago.

Yet until prices cross the $4 pain threshold - likely soon - many drivers won't severely curtail their plans, some tourism officials and hoteliers say.

"What we normally hear from people is that longer trips will become shorter trips," said Tom Crosby, spokesman for AAA Carolinas. "But until gas prices start spiking toward $4 and $5 a gallon, families generally try to salvage some type of vacation."

Griffin isn't waiting.

He owns a Shelby company that represents several manufacturers. Their territory: the Carolinas.

That requires a lot of driving - and a lot of gasoline consumption - for Griffin and his partner, roughly 7,000 miles a month. During the 2009 gas hike, they traded their two cars for more gas-efficient models, cutting fuel usage 40 percent, Griffin said.

Two years later, they're emailing and phoning clients more, putting 3,000 miles less on their cars.

Still, that didn't keep them from canceling plans for their annual trip to Charleston to see family.

"If I'm going to cut back on business travel, I'm going to cut back on personal travel as well," said Griffin, a member of the Observer's Public Insight Network, a group of readers that offer knowledge and insight for stories.

Cam Bartlett of Charlotte got philosophical too. His family's skipping several scheduled days in the mountains next week.

"We probably could have gone ahead and made the trip, and not starved later, but it came down to principle," he said. "I can't help but think that the oil companies find any excuse to gouge us. So we'll be taking the kids to local museums next week."

Tourist and hotel officials along the Carolinas coast aren't reporting a significant number of cancellations.

John Daniels, general manager at 645-room Breakers resort in Myrtle Beach, said he wasn't concerned about losing business this spring.

Summer's a different issue, if gasoline keeps spiraling toward $5 a gallon.

"If it gets there, we're poised to offer promotions," Daniels said, such as a gas gift card for a four-night stay.

Connie Nelson, spokesman for the Wilmington/Cape Fear Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, said N.C. beach hotels may get cancellations from vacationers who live in states like Ohio or West Virginia. But they'll be filled by those from Charlotte or the Triangle who were headed to Florida, but decided to stay closer to home.

"In years past, it has all balanced out," Nelson said.

That is what the Simpsons of Charlotte are doing. They had reservations for five days at Disney World and decided to hold off in hopes gas prices would start cycling down by summer, or fall. Late summer, they are due in Chicago for a family wedding and there's no skipping that one.

But, not to completely disappoint sons Evan, 8, and Bobby, 10, they're leaving for Myrtle Beach Saturday.

Gas prices forced Marguerite Holm of Indian Trail to miss a niece's recent graduation in Georgia, but she's still going to Wilmington on spring break to visit her daughter. She's taking her other daughter and her daughter's friend.

Holm, another PIN member, is a study in frugality. She buys cheaper gas just over the S.C. border on Johnston Road.

"We won't have to pay for hotel since we'll be staying with my daughter," she said. "But, clearly, more of the money I'd have available to do things - like going out to eat - I'll have to spend on gas.

"But I'm happy just to be going down the beach."

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