Gas prices not yet expected to affect SC tourism

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - Gas prices in South Carolina are expected to rise above $3 a gallon, but officials say tourism shouldn't suffer until they reach about $3.50.

Brendan Byrnes of AAA Carolinas tells The Sun News of Myrtle Beach that South Carolinians can expect to pay more than $3 for most of this year.

But he says even an increase of 40 cents a gallon is small compared with what tourists spend on food and lodging.

Brad Dean with the Myrtle Area Chamber of Commerce says tourists aren't affected until gas prices hit about $3.50. He says at that point, they may shorten their stays and limit discretionary spending.

The more than $18 billion tourism industry is one of the largest in the state.

"It does look like just with the global demand our supplies are lower and until we get those replenished I believe we're going to see these prices stay where they are," Sandra Horton of AAA Myrtle Beach explained.

"They're too high," driver Bob Bailey said. "Gas prices are too high."

Bailey says he can remember a day when gas prices were pocket change.

"Six gallons for a dollar," he recalled.

AAA of the Carolinas is predicting gas will continue to rise, and if average spring increases hold true, drivers will likely see $3.15 per gallon.

"When people are out traveling and doing things, riding around, then certainly the demand makes the prices go up," Horton said.

Many businesses feel the pinch everywhere from increased food prices to delivery costs. "I was just up the road and it was over three dollars for regular gas," Brian Wunderlich of Gino's Pizza exclaimed.

Wunderlich says Gino's Pizza's delivery fee goes straight to his drivers' pockets to help pay for gas. Wunderlich says although they have kept their prices the same for over two years now, prices at the pump might be enough to force them to make some changes. "We've actually been considering changing the delivery rate," Wunderlich admitted.

The math is simple: when gas prices go up, profits for drivers go down. "Especially when a customer doesn't tip them," Wunderlich explained. "This is what they do for a living, just like a waitress. They work for that and that's where their bread and butter comes from."

At the same time, Wunerlich understands that things still are not easy for most people affected by the recession. "You've got to cut corners to make ends meet these days," Wunderlich recognized. "For a lot of people it's very tough."

As tough as it may be, Bob Bailey believes drivers will not be making too many changes to their plans due to prices. "I think they'll just suck it up," Bailey ventured.

"People are spending money now and we're seeing that in this industry," Horton said.  "People are going. People are spending."

Horton says what is fueling the gas price rise is the additional demand oversees which helps to drive up the price per gallon.

AAA of the Carolinas says how fast the U.S. economy turns around compared to the global economy will help determine prices since the strength of the dollar has a large impact on prices.

Copyright 2011 WMBF News. All Rights Reserved. AP contributed to this report.