Mesa resident Melissa Gray went to California last month and came back with a lot less money in her pocket — with much of the cash going to pay for gasoline. When it came time to plan a trip for the Memorial Day weekend, she and her family decided it would be just fine to stay in town.
So they checked in Friday at the Arizona Grand Resort, formerly the Pointe South Mountain, in Ahwatukee Foothills.
“The price of gasoline was definitely a factor in that,” she said.
High gas prices have created a new holiday happening for this Memorial Day weekend: the “staycation.”
Instead of going out on the road, many Arizonans like Gray are making their escape by staying close to home and checking into Valley resorts.
The Arizona Grand is sold out for the Memorial Day weekend, and 61 percent of those guests are from the Valley, said Richard Behr, managing director. Sixty-eight percent of the expected 4,000 guests will be from Arizona, he said.
“The rising cost of gas, increased fees for extra luggage by airlines and economic insecurity are driving factors for the rapid increase in bookings this weekend by Phoenix residents looking to spend their family vacation locally,” Behr said.
The high percentage of local and in-state guests is expected to continue through the summer, he said.
Other Valley resorts also said they are seeing a high percentage of short-distance guests, and they are targeting locals in their marketing for this weekend and the summer.
“We expect to see bigger numbers (of local guests) this summer, not just this weekend,” said Kristen Jarnagin, director of public relations for the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort.
The resort, located in the Gila River Indian Community south of Ahwatukee, typically draws many visitors from Tucson because of its relative proximity, about 90 minutes away by car, she said. The resort also is popular with visitors from Scottsdale, she said.“
We are located in a different area. There aren’t any houses around. So it feels like you’re someplace different,” she said.
The Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale is seeing its usual percentage of local guests for Memorial Day, but there is a substantial increase in visitors from Southern California — a sign that visitors don’t want to use too much gas to get to their holiday destination, said Kim Cole, director of public relations for the hotel.
“It definitely indicated to us that visitors are opting to drive or fly at a reasonable cost,” she said. “We also are offering nice promotional rates that we would not normally extend until June, so we have adjusted as well.”
Like the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass, the Four Seasons touts its location as giving locals the “feel” of getting away from home. The resort is in north Scottsdale near Pinnacle Peak.“
We’re in the high desert. There is a sense of getting away,” Cole said.
Denise Seomin, public relations director for The Phoenician in Phoenix, said her resort also has received large numbers of inquiries for this weekend from local and short-drive markets such as Sedona, Tucson and Southern California.
“It’s an easy drive (for the nearby guests),” she said. “That seems to be a definite factor across the country.”
Other businesses also are trying to capitalize on the staycation mood. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation’s largest retailer, has launched an “American Summer” campaign, featuring tents, grills, coolers, wicker furniture sets and inflatable pools, saying a summer getaway is “as close as your own backyard.”
“Americans are still wanting to have a great summer,” said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Melissa O’Brien. “They want to enjoy those quick weekend getaways and socialization around the backyard cookout.”
Rivals Target Corp., touting “fun under the sun” in its circular, and Kohl’s Corp., with a “sale into summer” promotion, were among other retailers cutting prices on swimwear, patio sets and other merchandise that would fit into a close-to-home vacation.
Research is showing that many households plan to cut back on summer travel this year. A Rand McNally survey found two-thirds of respondents plan to shorten or cancel road trips to beat the high cost of gas.
But some retail experts question if the stay-at-home promotions will have much success.
“It’s true that a lot of people are staying at home rather than traveling,” said Nick McCoy, a home goods consultant for Columbus, Ohio-based TNS Retail Forward.
“However, because of the incredible pressures in terms of rising gas prices and food prices and job uncertainty, I don’t see people spending a lot of money on things they wouldn’t otherwise. They’re still holding onto their wallets very tightly.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.