Gasoline Vouchers Used to Draw in Tourists

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Gasoline Vouchers Used to Draw in Tourists

MINNEAPOLIS -- In the latest gimmick to persuade people to ignore the nation's high gasoline prices and get into their vehicles for summer vacations, an Associated Press report notes that tourism officials in Iowa and South Dakota are offering gas vouchers to potential tourists. So are bed-and-breakfast operators in Wisconsin, and even vacation towns including Aspen, Colo.; Branson, Mo.; and Virginia Beach, Va.

However, according to the American Automobile Association, the ploy may not be necessary. Although national gas prices are up 75 cents in the past year, demand is also up 1.5 percent.

"In textbook terms, you'd think prices would affect demand, but it doesn't," Dawn Duffy, spokeswoman for AAA Minneapolis, told AP. "Actions speak louder than words, but that doesn't keep people from complaining about this."

The Travel Industry Association of America estimates that summer travel nationwide will increase about 1 percent over last summer, although that could change if prices get over $3 a gallon.

The institute reports there are free fuel offers in at least 20 states.

The biggest program is under way in South Dakota, where the state tourism office is mailing 35,000 vouchers worth $20 each to potential visitors in Minnesota and nine other states, but South Dakotans themselves don't qualify.

The "Twenty Bucks for the Road" offer was originally planned for only 3,000 vouchers, but tourism officials said they were stunned by the demand. They're no longer taking applications for vouchers.

"It turns out that the promotion was announced just as gas prices started spiking," Billie Jo Waara, who oversees the program for South Dakota Tourism, said in the report. "It helped put South Dakota on the map."

The program was primarily planned to promote ethanol-blended fuel and the state's tourist attractions -- not as a promotion to stop a decline in visits to the state, she said.

"Tourism is a big business in South Dakota, and the affordability of gas is a constant worry in the business," Waara said.

In Iowa, the Kum & Go convenience store chain and the state tourism office is offering gas cards worth $50 to people who sign up online or at the state's 20 Welcome Centers. While 1,500 people have entered online, only 23 gas cards will be distributed.

"We simply wanted to encourage people to travel to Iowa," Nancy Landess, manager of the state tourism office, told AP. "We know people are paying attention to gas prices, and if it encourages them to fill up at Kum & Go, even better."

In Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Bed and Breakfast Association is offering $20 gas vouchers to people who stay at their properties.

Not everybody is jumping on the voucher bandwagon, however. The news agency reports that tourism officials in Minnesota have concluded that it's a solution to a problem that doesn't exist.

"Frankly, we think there's no need to, because we haven't seen any reduction in travel because of high gas prices," said Joan Hummel, a spokeswoman for Explore Minnesota, the state's travel office. "It's grabbed attention and become a hot topic around the country, but people aren't willing to give up their summer vacation."