The threat of gasoline shortages - or even just weekend closings of gasoline stations - has some tourism people shaking in their shoes.
One such is Sue Sadowske. She has the title of University of Wisconsin-Extension Area Recreation Marketing and Communications Agent in Rhinelander, which is too much of a mouthful. Let's just say Sadowske is in tourism and deeply concerned about energy.
She also speaks rather well on the subject, done her homework. Of Wisconsin in general and the five "northwoods" counties in particular,she said: "We simply need travel to survive. While our travel industry can deal with the increased gasoline prices, or even rationing, the uncertainty caused by weekend closings would be devastating."
Sadowske said there has been no official estimate of the dollar loss to Wiscousin tourism because of the weekend closings of gasoline stations, but she came up with an unofficial estimate: "Wisconsin might lose $1.1 billion a year - one-fourth of its tourism revenue."
The state itself would stand to lose $31 million a year in sales tax and there would be the loss of jobs for an estimated 35,000 persons, she said,but acknowledged "other states are hollering, too."
And holler they will, you may be sure. A reduction in tourism isn't just hardship for those who would be forced to cancel plans if gasoline stations closed all weekend. You're talking about the lives and jobs of millions of Americans. It is said that tourism ranks in the top three industries for 46 of the 50 states.
As for the weekend closings, Sadowske said: "They're talking about doing this perhaps in June. That's at the height of the tourist season. We have 27,000 small businesses in Wisconcin that are tourist-oriented. They have three months of the year to make it."
She said it was a safe guess that a majority of those 27,000 businesses would perish if a gasoline crunch causes people to stay home.
So don't expect tourism officials to take any program for weekend closing of gasoline stations without putting up a strong fight. They think there are other answers.
"One possibility is to restrict the closings to the period from noon Saturday to noon Sunday," Sadowske said . "This would permit vacationers to leave home early on Saturdays and to return home late on Sundays." These are the days most Midwest vacationers start and end their outings.
"Another suggestion," Sadowske said, "has been put forth by economists, who say that higher gasoline prices would reduce the use of fuel."
The thought here is that as long as gasoline is available, whatever the price, people will be willing to but it for vacations. This certainly has been the case in Europe, where gasoline has been well over a dollar a gallon for several years. Vacationing Europeans clog the highyways, burning up high-priced gasoline with full knowledge that, even at the big-buck price, fuel is not a major part of their vacation budget.
And another tip from the Europeans: If they don't have cars or don't fancy paying the high gasoline prices, they don't necessarily stay home. They use trains, buses and planes. and, indeed, buses do - and probably will continue to - provide some very good buys in low-cost vacations.