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Tourism expected to weather high gas prices

MONTE DRAPER | BEMIDJI PIONEER Motorists around Bemidji and greater Minnesota are seeing higher gas prices the past few days, as a gallon of regular unleaded was at or above the $4 mark.

BEMIDJI —Although gas prices soared to near-record levels this week, local tourism officials don’t expect it to hamper one of the area’s most vital industries.

Denelle Hilliard, executive director of Visit Bemidji, said she didn’t expect tourism to be affected significantly by higher gas prices. She said many tourists that come here are coming from a 300-mile radius rather than other regions of the country.

“Their budget is set. They're coming,” Hilliard said, adding that gas prices may affect tourists’ itineraries but not their decision to visit.

A gallon of regular gas cost as much as $4.09 in Bemidji on Thursday morning, according to Much of the spike occurred Wednesday across Minnesota. A gallon of regular gas in Minnesota cost $3.85 on average as of Wednesday morning, but some Twin Cities stations were listing $4.25 a gallon by Wednesday afternoon. The record statewide high was $3.98 per gallon of regular gas in July 2008.

Hilliard said she went through a similar situation about four years ago when she worked in the tourism office in Lake of the Woods County. There, resort and hotel owners were so worried about gas prices they wondered if they should offer gas cards to visitors as an incentive.

“They said ‘How can we overcome this?’” Hilliard recounted. “And I said, ‘Overcome what?’”

Tourism didn’t falter that year, she said. A similar outcome would bode well for the local economy, where leisure and hospitality industry generated about $79 million in gross sales in 2011 in Beltrami County, according to report from the Minnesota Department of Revenue.

The high gas prices across the Upper Midwest this year are the result of two Chicago-area refineries closing for repairs. AAA Minnesota/Iowa spokeswoman Gail Winholzer told the Duluth News Tribune that it may not be until mid-June until there’s some relief at the pump.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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