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Rising gas prices not impacting San Diego's tourism industry ... yet

KPBS reporter John Carroll reports on concerns involving San Diego's economic lifeblood: tourism and what that means to the locals.

Tourism is big business in San Diego. Figures from the tourism authority show, before the pandemic in 2019, more than 35-million people were visiting the San Diego region every year, generating nearly $18 billion in economic activity, and supporting more than 190,000 jobs.

Those numbers fell by more than half in 2020.

Businesses rely on tourism in San Diego County, especially now that people are finally bouncing back from the pandemic.


But thanks to events unfolding a world away, the cost of getting here is getting higher and higher. Tuesday's average price at the pump in San Diego County was $5.48 a gallon.

Aviation fuel prices have also risen sharply, which brings up a big, worrisome question: At what point do people start cutting back on travel?

The experience from previous price spikes shows people are not there — yet.

“Right now, it’s just too soon to tell if the rising gas prices are going to have an impact on people’s driving habits or travel plans," said the Auto Club’s Anlleyn Venegas.

RELATED: New $8 million tourism campaign launched to promote San Diego as a 'happy destination'


But Venegas said if what's past is prologue, we might not see much of an impact.

“Historically, high gas prices have not stopped people from traveling, but they could modify their plans, maybe go somewhere closer to home," she said.

Fortunately, there are a lot of things to do in the greater Southern California area, so even if some people decide against a trip here, there are lots of Southern Californians who could make up for that by taking a staycation.

“When it comes to traveling, they might want to just go somewhere closer to home," Venegas said.

So, many will wait in anticipation for now as people brace themselves for how much higher these gas prices will go.