Summer tourism is off to a slow start and some businesses in the North Carolina mountains say gas prices may be to blame.
Businesses in Watauga and Avery counties said the season is starting slowly as inflation-driven higher prices for gas and other goods are making folks think twice about trips to the High Country.
Normally a typical destination for tourists searching for waterfalls and trails to hike, this summer there may be fewer folks heading to the mountains because of the cost to get there.
“We’re about 20% off verses 2021,” said Charlie Sellers, the mayor of Blowing Rock.
Sellers doesn’t just lead the town of Blowing Rock. He also owns an attraction with the town’s name on it that usually sees thousands of visitors each year.
Watauga County- the summer tourism season is getting underway in the North Carolina mountains where some business say their sales are down from last year. The story today on channel 9 eyewitness news starting at five. pic.twitter.com/KcZRuR4Ky5
— Dave Faherty (@FahertyWSOC9) June 20, 2022
“(In) 2022, we’ve seen a change,” Sellers said. “I think it’s a combination of more people staying at home or driven by the cost of fuel.”
The mayor isn’t alone. While there are still a lot of people in downtown Blowing Rock, businesses say they, too, are feeling the impact of inflation.
“People want to get away, but the buying is less,” said Jean Walker from the gift shop Christmas in Blowing Rock.
Twenty miles away, at Christa’s General Store along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a decent crowd could be seen heading into the weekend, but the owner says she’s heard from other regulars who aren’t making the trip this summer.
“I’ve had several customers call me and say, ‘I would come up but can’t afford to spend extra on gas right now,’” Christa Poore told Channel 9.
One couple Channel 9′s Dave Faherty spoke with said they’re traveling the more than 400 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway, but are finding ways to save by staying at campgrounds along the way.
“Camp and tent along the way,” said Bob McCurdy. “Gas prices, they’re high, but not enough to stop us from living today and not waiting till tomorrow.”
Not everyone has seen a drop in tourism. Officials at Grandfather Mountain said they’ve been busy, but added that it may be from folks trying to get out of the heat.
(WATCH BELOW: Is it worth driving farther for cheaper gas prices?)