Are gas prices and inflation causing people to cancel summer travel plans?

Persistent inflationary pressures and record-high gasoline prices mean that a majority of Utah residents are now considering reducing or postponing their summer travel plans, new polling data shows.

And the poll results are consistent with local and national consumer sentiment measurements, which hit an all-time low in June when it comes to the collective outlook for economic conditions.

A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics nationwide poll of 808 registered voters conducted June 16-29 found that gas prices and inflation are the top considerations when deciding whether to travel in the next three months or not.


Gas prices were top-ranked by 53% of respondents and inflation was the top concern for 41% of respondents. COVID-19 case counts and hotel availability were each rated as their top concern by 18% of respondents, although nearly a third said the ongoing pandemic had not played a role in their travel decision.

The new survey data, collected by Dan Jones & Associates, has an error margin of plus or minus 3.45 percentage points.

Inflation rates in the US fell briefly in April but rebounded to a 40-year high of 8.6% in May, according to the US Department of Labor’s latest CPI report.

The states of Mountain West, which includes Utah, continued to have one of the highest regional inflation rates in the country, with average prices for goods and services rising 9.4% in May compared to a 9.8% increase in April.

U.S. consumers are now paying for groceries, which are up 11.9% year-on-year, gasoline, which is up 48.7% from 2021, and lodging, which is up 5.5% since May 2021 .

Prices for new and used cars also continue to increase by 12.6% and 16.1% respectively.

America’s rampant inflation puts great pressure on families, forcing them to pay much more for food, gas and rent, and reducing their ability to afford everything from haircuts to electronics to vacations. Low-income and Black and Hispanic Americans in particular are struggling because, on average, a larger portion of their income is spent on necessities.

And while the national median price of gasoline has fallen in recent weeks since hitting $5 a gallon statewide last month, drivers in Utah continue to see record prices at their local gas pumps.

On Friday, AAA reported that the average US price for a gallon of regular oil is now $4.72 a gallon, down from a record $5.02 a gallon in mid-June. In Utah, the median price per gallon on Friday was $5.22, just pennies below the state’s all-time high of $5.26 set on July 1.

And data collected in Deseret News’ new survey found that Utah residents are feeling these additional costs in a way that is prompting changes to their summer travel itineraries.

When pollsters asked how current gas prices are affecting their travel plans this summer, 47% of respondents said they are likely to take fewer trips, 31% said shorter trips were fine, 17% said they that they are likely to postpone planned trips and 11% said they are likely to cancel summer trips outright.


Phil Dean, senior economist at the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, reviewed the survey results and said the responses from Utah consumers are consistent with the types of behavior changes economists are seeing in the face of skyrocketing prices for consumer goods and services expect at a record pace in recent months.

“It’s no surprise to see how higher prices are directly impacting how Utah residents feel about summer travel plans,” Dean said. “The cost of basic needs has gone up and those are the areas that we’re really feeling the most. Every time you’re at the pump, you’re reminded of where things are.”

Dean also noted that a recent measurement of consumer sentiment in the state reflects some of the same concerns Utahn shared in Deseret News’ new poll.

June data collected by the Gardner Institute showed that Utah consumer sentiment fell nearly five points from May to June when asked about the state’s near-term economic outlook, to 64.4, its lowest reading since the monthly survey began in September Year 2020. And Utah residents are even less optimistic about the country’s economic outlook, which received a confidence rating of 54.1 in June.

A similar poll from the University of Michigan found a larger drop in sentiment in June among Americans overall. June’s national consumer sentiment index reflects the lowest reading in the 70-year history of the Michigan survey.

“Not surprisingly, consumers of all backgrounds remain very frustrated by high inflation. In fact, nobody under 40 has seen interest rates this high in their life,” Dean said in a statement accompanying the sentiment report. “This high inflation includes many necessities, including $5 per gallon gasoline and increased food prices. Persistently high prices are forcing consumers to recalibrate their short-term thinking about today’s purchases and wages, and creating uncertainty about the long-term future.”

While some economists are predicting the US is on the verge of a recession, Dean says he’s still optimistic it can be avoided, noting that there are some signs price pressures are easing.

Dean is also optimistic, with some caveats, about the state’s overall economy’s ability to weather another downturn should one materialize.

“Utah remains in very good shape economically,” he said. “We are not an island and we are affected by national and global economic conditions. But we still have a lot of growth potential ahead of us and a relatively young, well-educated population. And we have lower cost of doing business.

“My biggest concern, in the short and long term about the development of our state’s economy, is housing affordability and making sure we address that.”