Time away from work and time spent relaxing is so sacred that not even a spike at the pumps can detour Quad-Citians from their summer travel plans.
Experts in the travel and recreation businesses said while rising gasoline prices will not cause travelers to call off their vacations or getaways, the additional costs will prompt them to find savings in other areas.
"Most people when they set travel plans don't plan last minute, especially if they have plans at the national parks or have purchased airline tickets. So that they rarely cancel their plans," said Gail Weinholzer, spokeswoman for AAA Minnesota/Iowa.
"They will make up for it in other ways," she said. "They may eat at cheaper restaurants or cut back on the other spending."
Likewise, fuel prices seem to be having little impact on those in the market for a recreational vehicle, two Quad-City RV dealers said.
"It may affect how far people travel for the weekend, but it doesn't affect if they are going to make a decision to purchase an RV or not," said John Dresselhaus, the owner of US Adventure RV, Davenport. In fact, he said the industry finally has rebounded from the recession.
Terry Frazer, the owner of Terry Frazer's RV Center in Eldridge, agreed, adding that "the whole industry is up over 10 percent over last year." "We haven't approached the levels of 2006 — that was the heyday year," he said. but he is pleased with his sales this spring and now as they hit the peak season.
"People have seen gas prices fluctuate enough over the years that they know this is just what happens ... they've gotten used to the roller-coasting," Frazer added.
According to AAA, gas prices averaged about $3.65 per gallon nationally as of Thursday — a few cents less than last year. But in the upper Midwest, it's a different picture where the average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline was $4.01 in Iowa and $4.04 in Illinois.
Weinholzer said the spike is tied to extensive refinery maintenance in the upper Midwest. With several refineries down for maintenance, diminished supplies are sending prices at the pump higher.
"We believe this is a temporary spike, granted it's a painful one," she said, adding that AAA predicts prices will get back to normal by late June "when the summer travel season really kicks in."
However, AAA's annual Memorial Day travel forecast does predicts a slight decline — less than 1 percent from the 35.1 million who traveled last year. According to the survey, 34.8 million Americans are journeying 50 miles or more from home this travel weekend, which began Thursday and runs through Monday.
Dresselhaus said his dealership expanded its rental fleet this year and all 20 RVs were rented for the weekend. "Nobody has canceled their trips because of higher gas. But, of course, we would like to see gas prices come down," he said.
Joe Taylor, the president and chief executive officer of the Quad-Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau, said that while increased gas prices are never a good thing, it will help put a spotlight on the benefits of visiting the Quad-Cities. "We're banking on the Quad-Cities being a value destination," he said, adding that a recent branding study identified the region's affordability as one of its strengths.
But affordability expands beyond money factors, Taylor said. "It's the time element, the ease of getting around."
For example, he said visitors — particularly those from the Chicago area — will be amazed to find they can get onto some local golf courses without a reservation, decide to go to the movies with 15 minutes notice or easily get into the area's restaurants, venues and festivals.
"Time off is so precious that you're going to take your time off ... and not really be concerned about those few cents a gallon," Taylor added.
However, he has seen a trend of travelers taking more longer weekend trips instead of the two-week vacations. That bodes well for the RV industry.
The more frequent getaways also support Dresselhaus' observation that young families discover RVing "is a great way to spend time with their families."
"It gives you the ability to go where you want, when you want," he said. "We as an industry say half the RVs sold as an industry are to those under 50 and that wasn't always the case."
At Terry Frazer's RV Center, he, too, sees customers spanning all generations. "Obviously, retirees are part of our customer base, but we are getting the 30-somethings buying campers too."
He also sees a difference is in the products being sold. While he once sold 50 or 60 fold-down campers a year, those have been replaced by the lightweight, inexpensive trailers that offer more comforts of home.
"My hottest selling product is the Cyclone toy hauler, which includes a 12-foot garage in the back to haul your toys," he said. Campers use the added space to ferry bicycles and four-wheelers or simply as added space.
Dresselhause said the fact that the industry is going more green, including improvements in fuel efficiency, also is pulling in new customers. He said the larger RVs will get 9 to 10 miles per gallon, while the smaller ones will get about 20 miles per gallon.
"They are much more fuel efficient than a lot of people anticipate," he said.