Record-low fuel prices, temps in the 80s as area heads into Labor Day weekend

Ryan McKinnon
Contact Reporterjmckinnon@vagazette.com

The lowest Labor Day weekend gas prices in over a decade and a forecast for four days in the 80s may combine to make this holiday a major travel weekend for the area.

Local tourism officials are keeping their fingers crossed.

"I am always going to be optimistic," said Corrina Ferguson, director of the Williamsburg Area Destination Marketing Committee. "The weather is looking brilliant for the weekend, and there are a lot of great events which is really a key driver to helping people make a decision that we need to get out there and we need to get out there now."

Ferguson said a free outdoor symphony at Yorktown, the kickoff to Busch Garden's beer festival and a multitude of smaller outdoor events would be what Greater Williamsburg needs to end the summer on a high note.

The National Weather Service's forecast as of Tuesday afternoon was for Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday to each be mostly sunny with highs in the mid-80s. Nights should be cooler with temperatures in the mid-60s.

And fuel analysts predict that this weekend gas prices could hit a 12-year low for Labor Day in Virginia.

Gregg Laskoski, a senior petroleum analyst with the fuel-pricing website GasBuddy, said the gas prices have been on a steady decline all summer. A press release from GasBuddy reported that drivers nation-wide saved $18.9 billion in gas spending this summer compared to last.

Laskoski said three main factors contribute to the low prices: Increased oil production, sluggish economic growth and more fuel-efficient cars. Those three factors decrease the overall demand for oil, lowering the price at the pump for the consumer.

And he said those factors could lead to more people on the road over Labor Day weekend.

"When you have low prices for a prolonged period of time, it tends to increase the amount of leisure travel that people do," said Gregg Laskoski,. "I would expect that would be part of what we see this year."

Gas prices in James City on Tuesday afternoon hovered just over two dollars at $2.02 per gallon. And prices are even lower in York, where the average price per gallon is $1.98.

State-wide, the $2.03 per gallon price is 9 cents higher since last month, but it is still down 19 cents from a year ago.

On Tuesday, Virginia's and Texas's gas prices were tied for fifth lowest in the nation. Only New Jersey, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina had lower rates. South Carolina's average cost of $1.95 per gallon was the cheapest nation-wide.

As the summer winds down, local hotel operators are in need of a strong weekend.

According to STR, a firm that tracks occupancy rates, Greater Williamsburg's occupancy rates were down 3 percent in July 2016 compared to last year. The City of Williamsburg and James City County both saw a roughly 9 percent drop in the July occupancy rate since 2015, while York County's rate increased by nearly 8 percent.

Ron Kirkland, the executive director of Williamsburg Hotel Motel Association, said expectations for hoteliers this summer had not panned out.

"People were feeling optimistic with a relatively good economy and low gas prices," Kirkland said. "People were traveling, but it just seems like they were traveling other places and not Williamsburg."

Kirkland said the region needed to evaluate its tourism strategy as numbers decline.

"If we didn't have a great Labor Day Weekend, it's not because of weather or gas prices or anything else. It's because there is some other problem causing us to not have enough demand," Kirkland said.

Karen Riordan, the president and CEO of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance, said Labor Day typically marks the end to the summer tourism season, but the alliance is trying to stretch that season as long as it can.

"All those nice cars of people from Pennsylvania and New Jersey we anticipate will start to leave us this weekend," she said. "But we are really trying to extend our summer through September. That's why so many of the programs we put out try to really push that season all the way through the third or fourth week of September, as long as it's nice."

McKinnon can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

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