Skyrocketing fuel prices will affect the mode of transportation rather than destination for many travelers this summer, says the head of the region's largest auto club.

Skyrocketing fuel prices will affect the mode of transportation rather than destination for many travelers this summer, says the head of the region's largest auto club.

"I can't make any predictions about specific venues, but I can tell you that travelers are more discerning this year," John Porter, president and chief executive for AAA of Oregon/Idaho, said during a visit to Medford on Friday. "People are still traveling and volumes are very high. The choice will come down to the mode of travel — air or auto."

One change AAA has noted while booking reservations is travelers' willingness to spend a night at a less-touted hotel.

"If I see a shift," Porter said, "it's that people are more price sensitive and they might stay at a three-diamond hotel instead of a four-diamond hotel. They're taking time to do more research and study."

He predicts the hospitality industry might in turn adjust prices to attract cost-conscience travelers.

"I think we'll see (hotel and resort) properties pricing much more aggressively," Porter said. "You'll see more competitive pricing in lodging, restaurants and food service. They're going to be competing to see their restaurants are full. Those offsets should mitigate the fuel costs some, although demand will ultimately determine things."

Southern Oregon remains within range of the long-weekend traveler residing in the Portland area, the San Francisco Bay Area or Sacramento.

"Even before the runup in gas prices, people were starting to take more shorter vacations of two to four days," Porter said. "You're not as isolated from the population centers with people taking that kind of vacation."

Although the national economy is slumping, the weak dollar makes the area attractive to foreign travelers. That bodes well for Crater Lake National Park, south coast beaches, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and local wineries.

"International bookings were up 10 percent to 12 percent in 2008, but I don't think we'll see that kind of an increase," Porter said. "Fuel costs affect European travelers too, but the stronger Euro will encourage foreign travel."

Transient taxes underwrite tourism promotion in Oregon. If hotel and motel revenue declines appreciably, it could hinder future promotion.

"Tourism has been much better promoted in recent years," Porter said. "Because that tax has provided resources to do it."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.