April 25, 2014 5:29 pm

Distant tourist destinations brace for high cost of surging gas prices

Nice view if you can afford to get there: A hiker takes in the snow covered mountains surrounding Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park. The park is a four hour drive from Calgary.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/Canadian Press

Nova Scotians woke up Friday morning to discover prices at the pump had jumped five cents a litre overnight, to $1.47.

The leap is the latest in what has been a steady and steep climb in the cost of gasoline across the province and country this spring.

For a $2-billion provincial tourism industry that relies on the steady inflow of visitors from places like Ontario, Vermont and New York each year—eager for a colonial-era maritime experience— the jump in gas prices just ahead of the all-important summer holiday season is troubling.

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“People in our business, small business people, cannot adjust quickly [to the increase],” says Barbara MacPherson, who owns the Birches at Ben Eoin Country Inn in Cape Breton, roughly four hours east of Halifax.

Rates for the 12 rooms at the colonial-style bed and breakfast haven’t been raised in the 10 years MacPherson and her husband have operated the inn.

But the sudden rise in fuel this spring is fanning expenses across the board, from what it costs to maintain the restaurant’s menu to ensuring the hotel has basic supplies like tissue paper or soap.

So that may change. “It’s not something at this point [but] we would consider it,” MacPherson said.

“We don’t have any choice; I live in the rural part of Nova Scotia. We have to pay to get places and run our business. That’s the way it is.”

WORSE THAN PAST SPRINGS

As refineries prepare for the summer driving season while at the same time overall demand among motorists rises, analysts say gasoline price have established a pattern of a sudden escalation in gas prices during the spring months.

But they also suggest this spring’s run up is worse than previous surges.

To start, a brutally cold winter has forced refineries to keep processing heating fuels longer than normal.

READ MORE: Spike in gas prices worse this year than past springs

A declining loonie meanwhile has also had an inflationary effect on pump prices. Oil trades in U.S. dollars, and Canadian refineries recoup much of their own elevated costs through higher retail prices at the pump.

Experts are torn meanwhile whether prices will retreat again during the summer months or head higher.

Whatever the reasons for this year’s unusually strong surge, they are cold comfort to many who rely on tourists traveling by car to get to their summer vacations.

JASPER RAFTERS FACE NEW SURCHARGES

Across the country, far from the rocky coastlines of Nova Scotia higher gas prices are creating similar headaches for local tourism operators in Alberta.

Calgarians eyeing a white-water rafting rip down the Athabasca River in Jasper National Park in the heart of the Rocky Mountains are facing the spectre of added costs, too.

“Some operators I spoke to today said they need to sit down and determine whether they need to consider something like a surcharge,” Patti Pavlov, executive director of Jasper’s tourism association said.

Several operators pick up customers three- to four-and-a half hours away in Edmonton or Calgary, she said.

“Their single biggest expense is gas, over and above what they pay in wages and anything else to operate the business,” Pavlov said. “It’s clearly going to affect their price points.”

GAS CARDS IN MUSKOKA

Still, operators at traditional summer vacation destinations from all corners of Canada are hoping for the best – the holidays come around for only a few months a year, and folks will still be willing to make the trip.

“It’s really how you look at, from my point of view, being 90 minutes north of the city it makes it an easy drive to get away for the weekend,” said Jon Massey, the sales manager at the Residence Inn at Muskoka Wharf in Gravenhurst, Ont.

But even for Muskoka, a long-serving cottage and camping destination for Ontarians each spring and summer, it is taking some finessing to ensure visitors turn up.

Massey is partnering with Muskoka Highlands Golf Course this spring to offer a “Fuel and Fun” getaway package where players who book a getaway receive a $50 gas card.

Massey said local destinations like his have “to find those promotions that get people up to the area.”

WATCH: Gas prices jump — and jump again — at the pump.

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