Oklahoma tourism could get a boost from high gas prices


High gas prices, an airline industry in chaos and an economy teetering on a recession could put a significant crimp in summer travel plans for many families. 

However, many people in the local travel industry believe those pocketbook issues will benefit Oklahoma tourism as more vacationers will choose “stay-at-home” or “close-to-home” destinations for summer travel. 

“The trends that we are watching are telling us that,” said Zac Craig, president of Visit OKC.

Oklahoma is primarily a regional destination, meaning most of its visitors are coming from bordering states.

More:Discover Oklahoma: Looking for a summer camp for your kids? State parks have options.

Historically, most of the people visiting Oklahoma City for pleasure trips have been driving from towns and cities just four or five hours away, Craig said.

During the pandemic, Craig said, that “really extended to more like eight or nine hours. We are starting to see a lot of trend cities like Houston or Denver or Kansas City and St. Louis. A lot of visitors are coming into the market that, historically, we just haven’t seen that kind of reach.”

Oklahoma City’s museums, restaurants, parks, river sports and other attractions are appealing to a family looking to save money on a close-to-home vacation, Craig said.

Gasoline prices prompting changes, not cancellations, of summer travel plans

Despite the high costs, Americans are determined to travel this summer, according to the most recent research by Travel Intelligence’s Portrait of American Travelers Summer Edition.

Nearly two out of three U.S. travelers, 65%, intend to take a leisure trip in the next six months despite obstacles present in today’s travel environment. The data showed that gas prices will impact travel for nearly eight in 10 active leisure travelers.

At this point, however, Americans are not canceling trips, but modifying them. Almost half, 48%, said they are traveling close to home, 35% said they are decreasing their spending on entertainment and shopping, and 30% are making meals rather than eating out.

The U.S. Travel Association also reports travel spending in April increased from the previous year. Nearly six in 10 American travelers (59%) say rising gas prices will impact their decision to travel in the next six months, according to the report.

Some signs point to a prosperous travel season for Oklahoma attractions

And there are more clues that Oklahoma City could see more visitors this summer. Oklahoma City’s hotel occupancy was 7% higher in May of this year than May of last year. 

The Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton is a popular tourist stop.

And visits to Visit OKC’s website were much higher in May.

“Just in the month of May, we saw visitation to the website increased by 60%,” Craig said. “Despite the gas prices, there is still a great deal of travel intent that we are seeing.”

Oklahoma’s many lakes are expected to be as busy as ever this summer.

“I don’t think gas prices are going to keep people away from Grand Lake,” said Jay Cranke, executive director of the Grand Lake Association.  

“I can see where the entire state is going to benefit to some degree because of higher prices, because people are going to stay home and not make that 500-mile trip to the beach or Disneyland.

“People are still spending money. I get it, gas prices doubled, but I think people are still willing to spend money. The people that have a little spending money are still spending it.”

State parks in Oklahoma, which saw record numbers of visitors during the pandemic, could see similar traffic this summer.

“We are very hopeful of a strong summer visitation to the parks based on booking numbers for June 1 through Aug. 31,” said Jennifer Mullins, director of travel promotion for the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation.

More:QuikTrip, new hotels, and an aquarium: Here’s what to know about Oklahoma City’s plans for 2022

Oklahoma state parks already have booked more than 125,000 reservations this summer, just slightly below last year’s pace of more than 129,000. 

Hordes of Texans cross the Red River to sample Oklahoma’s tourism hotspots

One of the hottest tourism destinations in Oklahoma is southeastern Oklahoma in Hochatown. A large number of north Texans use southeast Oklahoma as their playground.

Every weekend, about 2,500 cabins in the Hochatown area are booked.  

Dian Jordan, a rental property owner and unofficial mayor of Hochatown, said high gas prices will mean families with fewer disposable dollars for leisure, but she doesn’t think that will mean a slower summer for travel to Hochatown.

“I predict the opposite,” she said. “Summer travelers might take a lesser vacation. The cabin visitor from last year might choose a day trip to a nearby Texas state park instead of a weekend in the Oklahoma cabins.

More:Businesses expect summertime slam in Oklahoma

“The family that previously spent two weeks in Colorado might only book one week at Beavers Bend. We have experienced these trends for years. Regardless of the travelers’ vacation budgets, we seem to always have a full market for the Hochatown cabins.”

Jordan invested in her first property in Hochatown in 1999.

“I wasn’t making a lot of money, but every year I kept improving the cabins,” she said. “Our community kept working together to be better and provide a fun experience for the tourists.

“This summer will offer more things to do than ever before. We have more restaurants. An outdoor movie park is opening soon. We are excited to have several grocery store options. Previously, cabin guests had to drive 10 miles back to Broken Bow for groceries. Now, several stores offer milk and bread. And everything to make campfire s’mores.”

Despite high gas prices and an economy trending on recession, there is still a strong market for luxury cabin rentals, Jordan said.

More:Something magical is happening in southeast Oklahoma. The country should take notice

“Most Hochatown vacationers are from metropolitan areas,” she said. “Children who have never seen the dark sky stars. They have never experienced catching a fish. And they have never stayed in a log cabin where they can hear the tree frogs singing while sitting on the back porch at dusk.

“The sights, the sounds and the feelings keep our eco-based rural tourism growing.”

Reporter Ed Godfrey looks for stories that impact your life. Be it news, outdoors, sports — you name it, he wants to report it. Have a story idea? Contact him at egodfrey@oklahoman.com or on Twitter @EdGodfrey. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.


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