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Will inflation hinder Vermont’s tourism comeback?

Published: Jun. 2, 2022 at 6:05 PM EDT
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WAITSFIELD, Vt. (WCAX) - The Memorial Day weekend marked the unofficial start of summer, and Americans are itching to travel. But will high gas prices and inflation impact Vermont’s summer tourism season?

After two long years, Vermont is emerging from the COVID tunnel and is launching into summer. Local businesses in the Mad River Valley are gearing up for what’s expected to be a busy season.

“Last week it was like 60% were first-timers -- which is really exciting,” said Patty Smith, owner of the Green Closet, a women’s clothing store in Waitsfield.

Smith and other merchants are feeling good about local foot traffic. But could sky-high gas prices, airfare prices, and general inflation deter tourists? A survey from the National Hotel and Lodging Association shows that 60% of Americans said they planned on taking more trips than last year.

“That data also showed that rising gas prices and inflation would be a top travel concern as opposed to COVID as a top concern,” said Amy Spear with the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.

“We had maybe a little bit shorter of a trip than we would have, but no, we knew we needed to be here,” said Nicole Clancy, who arrived from Wyoming after four flights. They say the trip was needed after being cooped up by COVID.

“People are looking to go and do things now because we have been restricted, so the cost didn’t really enter our mind or anything,” added David Clancy.

Tourism officials say fuel prices are likely going to deter travelers from taking long, multi-day trips and instead opting for destinations within a day’s drive. “Luckily, Vermont is within a half-day drive of 80 million people, so we feel like we’re in a good position there for folks to dial back the travel but still get to a place outside of their home,” said Nate Formalarie with the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. As of April, the Canadian border is also open, and that’s expected to be a boon to the economy.

But labor shortages persist. State data shows Vermont has 18,000 open jobs and not enough people to staff them. And the global economy keeps throwing curveballs including inflation, supply chain disruptions, and the war in Ukraine.

“Like many other businesses, shipping costs have been exorbitant and have been creeping higher,” said Andrea Cox with Three Buds Apothecary, a gift shop in Waitsfield.

Some business owners say that could mean slightly higher prices for customers. But travelers we spoke with say it’s worth it to make it to Vermont.

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