Gas prices don't affect coastal tourism

Thousands of people walked along the Bethany Beach boardwalk throughout the extended July 4 holiday weekend. Visitors and locals alike lined up to watch the Bethany Beach and Bear Trap parades on Tuesday. And vehicles carrying Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and even North Carolina license plates inched along Routes 1 and 26 at certain points of the weekend.

Delaware’s average regular unleaded gas prices rose 10 cents in a week, to $3.06, but it didn’t seem to bother tourists driving hours to visit Coastal Delaware.

“Happiness is more important than the price (of gas),” said Viva McCue as she filled up her minivan on Tuesday. “The children are happy.”

On Tuesday, gas stations on Routes 1 and 26 eclipsed the state average as demand rose for perhaps the busiest travel weekend of the year in the area. Valero on Route 26 in Bethany offered regular unleaded for $3.13. The Citgo at Hockers’ on Route 26 in Millville offered the same gas for 1 cent higher, at $3.14, as did the BP station on Route 1 in Bethany.

Jane Chabon, who visited Bethany Beach for the first time with her family, driving five hours from their hometown of Johnstown, Pa., filled her tank at the Route 1 BP after Tuesday’s Bethany Beach July 4 parade.

“What can you say?” Chabon asked about gas prices, which she said were the topic of many recent conversations. “We don’t like it, but you have to have gas.”

Andy Licherdell, a Rochester, N.Y., native, filled his tank on Tuesday a few feet away from Chabon.

“I’m stunned,” Licherdell said of the gas prices. “Usually everything is cheaper down here.”

In the region, Delaware’s average gas prices are only topped by Philadelphia’s, which reached $3.09 on Wednesday. Although Delaware has not yet come close to the state record of $3.23 recorded last September after Hurricane Katrina, the $3.06 average is 14 cents more than the Pennsylvania average and 9 cents more than the average of $2.97 in New Jersey.

Gas prices everywhere are increasing, however, due to turmoil on the world market, crude oil’s current high price of $74 per gallon, what an AAA spokesman called “hiccups” in production with downed refineries and growing demand in the summer season.

A record-breaking travel season in Delaware — which saw a 3.2 percent increase in auto travelers, according to AAA — certainly contributed to the rising prices, which can be unpredictable.

“Any time you have a hiccup in production, it’s going to have an effect,” said Ela Alkalaj, a AAA spokesperson. “Any threat of a hurricane coming toward the gulf can send gas prices up. We don’t know what gas prices will do because of all of the different factors,” she said.

But apparently, that doesn’t matter. Travelers like the McCues, the Licherdells, the Chabons and everyone else visiting the shore on the holiday weekend don’t seem to let soaring prices ruin plans.

“I don’t think it’s slowed things down,” Chabon said. “People just find a way to cut corners elsewhere.”