KENNEWICK — Tourism-dependent businesses in the Tri-Cities report travelers so far don't seem fazed by the specter of $4-a-gallon gas.
Kris Watkins, Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau president and CEO, doesn't expect gas prices will influence the number of Tri-City visitors.
Higher prices lead travelers to stay closer to home, she said, and make some more likely to chose a day trip instead of a cross-country drive or plane ride.
But since the Tri-Cities seeks to draw visitors from the Puget Sound area, Portland and Spokane, which are all within a few hours drive, gas costs aren't a big factor, Watkins said.
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It might mean that visitors don't have as much money to spend once they arrive, but Watkins said from past experience, it doesn't seem to keep them home.
"The Tri-Cities is still a very good buy," she added.
So far in April, the number of tourists seems to be keeping up with previous years, between business travel, sports events and conventions, she said. And during the first three months of the year, the area had a 6 percent higher occupancy rate for its hotels.
The average price for regular gas has gone up by about about 18 cents a gallon within the past month, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report.
Sunday's average price for regular unleaded was $3.94, a 4-cent increase from a week ago, and 85 cents higher than last year, according to the report. Premium gasoline was nearing $4.14 per gallon, while diesel was almost $4.39 per gallon.
Harry Alhadeff, Kestrel Vintners CEO, said the Prosser winery did see fewer visitors this year during the recent Spring Barrel Tasting, but the visitors who did come spent more per person than in previous years.
And he is not sure how much role gas prices played. Alhadeff said the weekend of the event was different than in previous years, the passport cost for winery visitors was higher and other competing winery events occurred that weekend or were coming up.
He said he and others in the Yakima Valley plan to do more to attract local visitors to wineries, such as organizing smaller events.
And Kestrel also has partnered with Prosser's Tuscany Rustic Bistro to offer dinners at the winery, called Tuscany at Kestrel. He said the dinners kicked off during Spring Barrel Tasting weekend.
Horn Rapids Golf Course is also counting on more local visitors during the tourism season.
Gas prices could mean fewer visitors from out of the area, such as Spokane and Portland, said Nick Rodrigues, course manager. When the gas costs more to get to the golf course than the bill to play golf, Rodrigues said some people may decide to play closer to home.
But he hopes to see an increase in the number of locals golfing at Horn Rapids because they don't go out of the area.
Rodrigues said the cost of fuel has added to the cost for the golf course to operate its golf carts and riding lawnmowers, which has meant some price increases for customers.