Tourism businesses run on fumes


BOSTON (AP) – With two dozen vehicles, each with a 40-gallon tank, and with fuel more than $2.80 per gallon, it costs Boston Duck Tours literally thousands of dollars per day to gas up its fleet.

And the costs keep on rising.

Crude oil prices climbed above $75 a barrel Friday, and analysts say they are likely to go higher in the weeks ahead based on political situations in Iran and Nigeria, as well as dwindling U.S. gasoline stocks.

With the summer just about here, tourist-based businesses that use large amounts of fuel are raising prices and worrying about the long-term affects of higher gas prices on their businesses.

“The fuel prices are killing us,” said Tom DePersia, owner of Big Fish II Sportfishing Charters in Marshfield, which has two diesel boats and one gasoline-powered vessel.

His 30-year-old business, which takes mostly out-of-state fishing enthusiasts 25 to 40 miles off shore to Stellwagen Bank to fish for cod, tuna, sharks and other large fish, raised his rate for a group of six by $90 this season, to $1,380.

“Business is off a little bit,” he said, adding that the hike is just $15 per person. “It’s not too bad, the die-hards we still get, but some guys who have been fishing with us a long time are just so stressed by fuel costs that they say they just can’t do it anymore.”

Boston Duck Tours, which last year took a half million people on a one hour, 20 minute tour of the city on World War II-era amphibious vehicles, raised rates by $1 per person for this season, “mainly due to fuel costs,” spokesman Bob Schwartz said.

So far, he said, it hasn’t cut into business. The fair spring weather, as well as major events in the city, including the NCAA Women’s Final Four and the Boston Marathon, have boosted business, he said.

At Seven Seas Whale Watch in Gloucester, owner Paul Frontiero has raised rates for this season by $2, to $40, for an adult. If gas prices continue to rise, or if the whales move farther off shore, he may add a fuel surcharge.

“We try to keep it affordable because it’s a big family thing to do, it’s a summer adventure,” he said. “But you have to pay your expenses.”

Because many people plan vacations months, even a year or more in advance, fuel prices are unlikely to keep tourists away, said Pat Moscaritolo, president of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Once they get here, however, they may be more frugal.

“People will now be looking at ways to trim. Maybe if they had planned to eat at an expensive restaurant, they may decide to cut back and go to a family restaurant. Maybe when they shop on Newbury Street or at Copley Place, they will do more looking than buying.”

Consumers are being smart, said Paul J. Sacco, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism. They are seeking more affordable hotels, using coupons and looking for package deals. That frees up money for the whale watch or the duck tour.

“I’ve been through a number of gas crisis situations, and in my experience … people make up the money in other ways,” he said.

However, gas prices may discourage the daytrippers and overnighters who make last-minute travel plans, he said.

About 15.7 million people visited the greater Boston area last year, up 6 percent from 2004, pumping about $9 billion into the economy. Despite higher gas prices, the bureau is predicting a 3.5 percent increase in visitors this year.

About 31.2 million people visited the state in 2004, the most recent year for which figures are available, according to the office of travel and tourism.

Frontiero, the owner of Seven Seas Whale Watch, does not expect the number of people on his boats to drop this season, but he said they may not be from as far afield. Instead of tourists from the Midwest, he may get more New Yorkers or Connecticut residents.

One way to ensure full boats has nothing to do with the cost of gas. Everyone loves a cruise on a sunny day and on smooth seas.

“When the sun is shining, the phone starts ringing off the hook,” he said.