High gasoline prices are fueling frustration — just as Vermont’s critical summer travel period kicks off. However, state officials believe the state’s location and a key consumer trend will combine for a successful season.
“We can’t wait to welcome folks,” said Nate Formalarie, a spokesman for the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development.
In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, Vermont tallied roughly 13 million visits to the state, Formalarie said. Spending on travel contributed approximately $3 billion to the small state’s economy that year, he added.
As the travel and hospitality sector looks to rebound from the pandemic to those visitation levels or higher, Formalarie said Vermont’s location — within a six-hour drive or less from 80 million people — should make it an attractive getaway, even despite high gas prices.
As of Monday, several stations in South Burlington had gas priced around $4.99 a gallon.
“It’s ridiculous,” lamented traveler Ginny DeQuatro, who was part of a group of childhood friends from Long Island, New York visiting Vermont.
“We got up this morning and were like, ‘Whelp, it’s up 10 cents,'” added DeQuatro’s friend on the trip, Christine Mangual.
Commerce officials said bookings are strong statewide, in large part due to the outdoor recreation sector, which saw huge growth during the pandemic.
“I think Vermont is positioned so well because of our access to nature and access to outdoor recreation, Formalarie told NECN & NBC10 Boston, adding that sales of outdoor sporting goods equipment have increased over the past two years. “And then, people can drive here in a day’s time. You don’t need to hop on a plane, don’t need to drive across the country — they can come explore their new hobby, their new passion, in the Green Mountains.”
The Spirit of Ethan Allen, which offers cruises of Lake Champlain departing from the Burlington waterfront, said it did have to raise ticket and meal prices a few dollars because of spikes in diesel and food costs.
Still, owner Mike Shea said reservations are up over last year. He attributed that to a belief people’s pent-up demand to savor summer outweighs hesitation about inflation.
“As terrible as (inflation) is, people are saying, ‘I want to go and travel. I want to go out and enjoy myself,'” Shea said.
Traveler Jackie Camerota from Connecticut said after missing out on travel opportunities due to the pandemic, she is not going to let gas prices keep her at home this summer.
“Do we like it?” Camerota asked rhetorically about high fuel costs. “No, but we’re willing to do it to go where we want to go.”
State tourism officials are reminding travelers to check with restaurants and other destinations, and to stay patient this summer— saying schedules or wait times may have changed because of staffing challenges.