U-T San Diego: Could gas prices mean fewer tourists?

Could gas prices mean fewer tourists?
By Lori Weisberg

March 17 2012 | U-T San Diego
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“Sun, fun and fuel in San Diego.” “Feelin’ the pain at the pump?” “Get free gas on us.” Already some hotels are using enticements like gas cards to lure budget-conscious travelers, but some hoteliers say such tactics are premature. Pain at the pump has to be more acute before hotels start offering complimentary gas, they say.

“The gas card promotions have been overplayed. It was clever for a while, but no, we’re not thinking it’s necessary,” said John Gates, general manager of the Rancho Bernardo Inn.

He has noticed, however, that the proportion of business his resort gets from San Diegans has risen 12 to 15 percent in recent months, possibly a response to the higher cost of fuel, Gates said.

San Diego hotel owner Bob Rauch said he’d be open to offering a gas card-type promotion if prices reach $5 a gallon. While he recently raised room rates by 5 percent at his Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites by Hilton, it was planned before the run-up in gas prices.

Unlike some of his peers, Jim Durbin, who manages the San Diego Marriott Gaslamp Quarter, decided to launch a special promotion, which he’s gearing to Auto Club members. The time is ripe, he believes, to jump-start travel among the driving public.

“In 2008, we offered a gas card incentive, and it worked, so when prices spiked again, we thought we’d start it again,” said Durbin, who also is president of the San Diego County Hotel-Motel Association. “We enhanced it for Triple-A and offered parking to grow market share, even with the higher gas prices.”