SC's lowest gas prices in US could fuel Beaufort County tourism

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SC's lowest gas prices in US could fuel Beaufort County tourism

By GRANT MARTIN
gmartin@islandpacket.com
Published Monday, June 25, 2012   |  471 Words  |  

It's a great day (to drive) in South Carolina.

The average price at Palmetto State pumps has dipped this past week below $3 per gallon -- and it's still falling.

So far, though, it doesn't appear to have dropped below the $3 mark in Beaufort County.

The statewide average price of $2.97 has fallen about 27 cents in the past month, and it's about 7 cents less expensive than the second-cheapest state average, according to GasBuddy, a Minnesota-based business that tracks gas prices at more than 140,000 stations in the U.S. and Canada.

It's a phenomenon that could bolster a local economy primarily driven by tourism in the summer months.

"Dropping gas prices nationwide are always good news," said Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Charlie Clark, who explained that many vacationers travel to the area by car.

She added that high gas prices in the past haven't affected tourists' decisions to visit, but they have led them to reduce their spending upon arrival.

The current prices, she speculated, might encourage spending around the Fourth of July, which she called one of the busiest times of year for Hilton Head.

The average gas price has fallen every day but one in South Carolina since April 9, according to Tom Crosby, spokesman for Charlotte-based AAA Carolinas, who said the dip below $3 per gallon has a psychological effect on many drivers.

"People might go back to their old gas-guzzling habits, and it won't (inhibit) their summer travel plans," Crosby said.

The price is expected to continue dropping, he added, pointing to a global oil supply that far exceeds current demand.

He credited the state gas tax, which at 16 cents per gallon is among the lowest nationwide, and proximity to a major pipeline from the Gulf of Mexico, for South Carolina's generally cheaper-than-average prices.

Those prices are also in part dictated by international developments, said Gregg Laskoski, a senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.

He added that high unemployment nationwide is also contributing to plummeting prices. "You'd want to see more evidence of an improving economy before raising prices," he explained.

Because of that correlation, he said, the national average price of gas per gallon could still drop another 10 or 20 cents, but he cautioned that might not be altogether desirable.

"These lower prices reflect a weaker economy," he said. "Consumers need to be more careful about what they wish for."

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