By the numbers

Average gas prices as of May 24

California: $3.72 per gallon

Washington: $3.43 per gallon

Oregon: $3.32 per gallon

Looking back on Oregon’s average gas price

A week ago: $3.30 a gallon

A month ago: $3.16 a gallon

A year ago: $2.73 a gallon

Memorial Day travel forecast

2.7 percent more travelers this year than last

34.6 million Americans will drive, up 2.4 percent over last year

Sources: AAA, economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit, a London information provider.

Despite rising gas prices, about 36.6 million Americans will take a road trip this Memorial Day weekend, the start of summer travel, according to AAA, a travel services company that also tracks gas prices nationwide.

While nearly half of the 4.3 million overnight visitors to Central Oregon come by car, mostly from other parts in the state, California and Washington, it isn’t likely that the rising gas prices will affect tourism here. That’s because the last time gas prices surged to $3.70 a gallon in 2014, travelers didn’t adjust their plans, said Alana Hughson, executive director of the Central Oregon Visitors Association.

With a humming economy, low unemployment and higher wages, the economic hit on tourism, economists say, shouldn’t be as severe as some would think.

Many commuters will feel the pain at the pump, as gas will cost them an additional $10 a week, said Damon Runberg, state of Oregon Employment Department regional economist. Goods could cost more, too, as many consumer products like groceries and retail products are trucked over the mountain passes.

“For someone on a tight budget, that extra $10 each week might be tough to make up, especially considering the growth in fuel prices over the past year have increased markedly faster than wages,” Runberg said.

Gas prices are being driven up by higher crude oil costs. AAA reported earlier this week that prices jumped 12 cents per gallon over the past two weeks, landing the national average at nearly $3 a gallon. The rise in gas prices was not entirely unexpected, said Marie Dodds, AAA spokeswoman for Idaho and Oregon.

Globally, the demand has been robust, pushing crude prices higher, Dodds said. Motorists are consuming more, and that drives up the price.

“This year people are feeling better about their economic situation, and when you have full employment, you have people driving to and from work every day,” Dodds said.

In Central Oregon the price of a gallon of gas is already approaching $3.29 a gallon, according to AAA. Higher gas prices mean higher visitor spending, which last year reached $10.2 billion in Oregon, said Leon Aliski, Dean Runyan Associates project manager.

When Ray Grubb fills up his tank on Monday before heading for Montana, the price at the pump won’t be a factor in his travel plans. Hotel costs and making it safely are higher on the list, said the Bend resident.

“The price of gas has nothing to do with our plans,” said Grubb, while at the Deschutes River with family. “The price won’t stop us from traveling. We take three or four trips a year, and we like to drive everywhere.”

Based upon what happened in 2014, travelers will absorb the additional cost and keep on coming, Aliski said.

“Surprisingly we did not see a huge decline due to high gas prices during the last big surge,” Hughson said. “We thought we would, but people kept driving. They may have opted to spend less on their travel, to make up for the expensive gas, but they still visited and still drove to our destination.”

Mostly this is because travelers book well in advance and often don’t cancel due to fuel prices, but they will adjust their spending, Dodds said.

Central Oregon gas prices are the highest in the state, Hughson said. In 2008, at the height of the recession, gas prices were $4.29 a gallon, according to AAA.

“Memorial Day is one of the busiest travel weekends of the year,” Dodds said. “Usually (the price of gas) has no effect on travel. Obviously higher fuel prices punch a hole in people’s budgets.”

Rising gas prices do affect travelers on tight budgets who might consider trimming their travel, said Runberg.

“If the fuel component of your vacation costs nearly 25 percent more than last year, then you may reconsider your trip to Central Oregon and pick a nearer destination to your home,” Runberg said.

So far at Sun Country Tours in Bend, it’s been business as usual, said Michelle Mercer, company marketing director.

Even in 2014 when gas prices soared, the company’s tour numbers didn’t decline, Mercer said.

This year’s bookings for the Memorial Day weekend are on track to keep pace with last year, she said.

“We may be a bit immune to it because our tours are competitively priced and we offer an iconic experience,” Mercer said.

— Reporter: 541-633-2117,