Gas prices at an Irving station on Broadway in South Portland on Thursday. Despite record-high gas prices, travel experts expect a surge of visitor traffic to Maine over this Memorial Day weekend over last year. Michele McDonald/Staff photographer

Travelers will be out in force on Maine roads for Memorial Day weekend despite paying historic amounts to fill up their tanks at the gas station.

Tourism analysts and Maine Turnpike officials expect the busiest holiday weekend in years, heralding the start of the traditional summer tourism season. Tourism epicenters expect a busy few months, with pent-up demand for travel offsetting the deterrent effect of surging fuel prices and rising costs for nearly everything.

“High gas prices and high inflation is always a concern, and it has gone up dramatically,” Maine Tourism Association President Tony Cameron said.

The average price for a gallon of regular gasoline in Maine was just shy of $4.75 this week, a 56 percent increase over the year before.

The current gas price is the highest on record, but it’s not the most expensive in real terms. The highest average U.S. gas price, adjusted for inflation, occurred in July 2008, followed by price spikes occurring between 2011 and 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The 2008 price of $4.11 would cost $5.41 today.

Sticker shock at the pump might not prevent visitors from making the long drive to scenic parts of coastal and inland Maine, but it could affect how willingly they open their wallets while on vacation or how many trips they take.


While seven out of 10 Americans say they will travel this summer, more than half say they will take fewer and shorter trips because of gas prices, according to a recent survey from the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

“People might curtail spending once they get here,” Cameron said. “Maybe they go out one night fewer, maybe do a little less shopping.”

That matches findings from STR, a travel research firm in Tennessee. Looking at data going back to 1990, analysts found very little relationship between gas prices and demand for hotel rooms. The effect on American budgets is real, but the impact of high gas prices has not been large enough to deter travel that requires hotel stays, STR said. Instead, travelers make different purchasing choices, such as the type of accommodation they choose or how much they spend on other expenses.

“Simply put, it is not a question of ‘if’ Americans are traveling but ‘how’ they travel during periods with higher gas prices,” the firm said.

Prices at an Irving gas station in South Portland on Thursday. Michele McDonald/Staff photographer

For many Maine tourists, lodging expenses generally don’t factor into travel decisions. Roughly a quarter of visitors – about 4 million – stayed in unpaid accommodations last year, such as their own vacation homes, homes of friends and family, or backcountry camping sites. Those visitors, especially those who spend significant time in second homes, will likely travel regardless of fuel costs.

Maine’s tourism market is also concentrated in relatively close states, with almost half of summer visitors last year coming from Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire and other parts of Maine.


“Our main market is the Northeast – we are a drive destination,” Cameron said. “If someone has to spend $150 more in gas, that is probably not going to prevent them from taking the trip up here.”


High prices aren’t causing jitters in Bar Harbor, even though the state’s top destination is several hours away by car for many tourists.

“Most of what I’ve heard is that bookings are still good and this weekend most places are going to be full,” said Alf Anderson, executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

Even though it might be more expensive, he said, plenty of people are still willing to travel.

“We are expecting a busy weekend leading into another busy summer,” Anderson said.


Holiday weekend travel projections support the idea that high gas prices will not keep motorists from their vacations.

AAA Northern New England estimates almost 1.8 million people in New England will travel at least 50 miles from home over Memorial Day weekend, a 7 percent jump over last year and one of the biggest one-year increases in more than a decade.

More people are opting to fly instead of drive, a possible indication that gas prices are having an impact on how people choose to travel, the travel group said.

“Memorial Day is always a good predictor of what’s to come for summer travel,” AAA Northern New England Public Affairs Manager Pat Moody said in a statement. “Based on our projections, summer travel isn’t just heating up, it will be on fire. People are overdue for a vacation, and they are looking to catch up on some much-needed R&R in the coming months.”


Traffic on the Maine Turnpike, a reliable predictor of overall travel trends, is likely to surpass the record-breaking Memorial Day weekend in 2019, said Erin Courtney, the turnpike authority’s public outreach manager. That Memorial Day weekend, the year before COVID-19 pandemic hit, the turnpike authority surpassed more than 1 million transactions.


The authority expects more than 1.4 million vehicle transactions over this four-day weekend, even factoring in high gas prices. Passenger vehicle volume has dropped by half a percentage point as gas prices climbed in recent weeks, but the turnpike is still on track for a record year of traffic and revenue.

Most summer tourists stick to tried-and-true locations such as the York County beaches, Portland and the Casco Bay region. Since the pandemic began, visitors have been increasingly venturing into rural and remote parts of the state, the Maine Office of Tourism said.

Strong predictions for national travel bode well for Maine, and visitation could surpass the more than 10 million people who traveled to and within the state last year, Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement.

“I extend a warm welcome to all visiting our state and encourage Maine people to join our visitors in enjoying our world-class restaurants, hotels, and iconic outdoor places,” the governor said.

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