State tourism officials are keeping a wary eye on price signs at gas stations these days, hoping they stop rising before people decide it costs too much to leave home this summer.
So far, no one is pressing a panic button. In fact, optimism still reigned among those interviewed Wednesday.Joe Rutherford, spokesman for the state Travel Council, conceded some tourists may scrap vacation plans through Utah to save money on gas, but he believes an increase in tourists who arrive on tour buses or by airplane will compensate.
"I don't think things are going to change that much this summer," Rutherford said, noting that gas prices still have not reached the level of the early 1980s when tourism stagnated temporarily.
"The general state of the economy plays a role, too," he said. "I think the economy is stronger generally now than it was then."
Gasoline prices have risen about 30 cents per gallon at most Utah gas stations in recent weeks. Utah Attorney General Paul Van Dam said earlier this week he wants to investigate why prices have risen.
Oil company officials attribute the rise to an oil spill in Alaska and to a world supply.
The state recently purchased television time in major cities throughout the western states for commercials urging people to visit Utah. The ads were geared primarily toward people who might take a long weekend and drive to Utah.
Rutherford said the state has no plans to change those ads. "Gasoline hasn't gone up that much," he said.
In the southern end of the state, Harry Grafe, superintendent of Zion National Park, said he has heard a lot of grumbling about price increases, but it is too early to tell if people will stay away.
During a telephone interview with the Deseret News, Grafe said he was looking out a window at a parking lot full of cars and buses.
Through the end of April, 327,187 people have visited Zion this year, a 6 percent increase over the same time in 1988. The park received a record 2.2 million visitors last year.
"We've found that the American public will take vacations come heck or high water," Grafe said. "It (gas prices) probably will stymie some people, but you will find there's still going to be a lot of people traveling."
Grafe said he hopes gas station owners are not marking prices up merely for profit.
"We keep talking about how dependent we are on tourism in southern Utah," he said. "I think they (gas station owners) better not bite the hand that feeds them."