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High gas prices might boost Wisconsin tourism

With prices in the $4 a gallon range, it may be painful to pull into the pump. But Wisconsin tourism officials are hoping that high gas prices will mean good business for state attractions.

AAA Wisconsin recommends families vacationing in North America budget $244 a day for lodging and meals.

However, that amount drops down to $206 per day in Wisconsin, according to AAA.

"While not at all welcome by consumers, this year's record-high gas prices could actually be good for Wisconsin tourist destinations," said Tom Frymark, AAA Wisconsin regional president.

"Despite high gas prices, people will still travel this summer, but they will likely stay closer to home and look for other ways to cut down on expenses," he added.

Wisconsin Department of Tourism officials say they are cautiously optimistic about this summer's tourism season despite rising gas prices.

"Wisconsin remains a good value," said Sarah Klavas, Department of Tourism director of communications and marketing.

"We believe people in our markets, Chicago and the Twin Cities, deserve a vacation and they will take it," she said.

Klavas added that the department is running an advertising campaign right now in the Twin Cities.

She also said that the department routinely surveys the various visitor bureaus around the state and so far the outlook is positive.

Melanie Platt-Gibson, director of marketing for the Wisconsin Dells Visitor and Convention Bureau, says things are looking good for the Dells.

"Our campgrounds are ahead of last year for bookings and our resort properties like the Wilderness and Chula Vista, are reporting solid bookings," said Gibson-Platt.

She added that the Chula Vista Resort's Memorial Day bookings are 25 percent above last year.

Both Gibson-Platt and Klavas agreed with AAA that families will continue to travel this year, but they will change their locations and their spending habits.

"Because of the higher gas prices families are not going to the traditional vacation spots like the Grand Canyon," Gibson-Platt said.

"They are still going to go on vacation because they want to spend time with each other, they just aren't going to travel as far," she added.

Some of the spending habits that might change, according to Gibson-Platt, are that families may only eat out one meal, or they may not buy as many souvenirs.

"They may bring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with them to eat, but they will come because they want to spend time with each other," Gibson-Platt said.

The kick-off for the summer season may be a bit slow though.

For the first time since 1998, AAA is predicting a 1 percent decrease in holiday travelers across the state.

Contact Brady Bautch at