Will the Carnival Skip Your Town?

Sun and fun lovers, take heed: Soaring fuel prices may put a damper on more than just your vacation this summer. Companies that provide some of the warm season's staple perks will change the way they do business to accommodate their rising energy bills.

Take, for instance, Paul Calabro. The owner of New York-based UsSkyAds.com said his company is the one behind some of the banners that fly across beaches and stadiums. The messages include marriage proposals and birthday wishes. But if you're thinking about taking your touchy-feely sentiments to the skies, watch out: It could cost you more than you expect.

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Calabro said he's considering raising his prices -- rates start at $450 per hour -- to compensate for spiking aviation fuel prices.

"In the last two weeks, it's gone up almost 50 cents a gallon," he said. "If it goes up another $2 a gallon, we're not going to be making any money."

Show-Stoppers

If your favorite traveling carnival skips town this summer, fuel prices might be the reason.

Billy Tucker, of Alabama-based Dixieland Carnival Co., said the company has had to cancel four planned carnival shows -- all of which would have benefited charities -- because of skyrocketing gas and diesel bills.

The company uses 38 trucks to transport its rides from town to town. Last year, Tucker said, Dixieland spent an additional $36,000 on fuel. He expects another spike this year.

"Honestly, it's killing us," he said.

"A lot of people are suggesting we raise our prices," he said. "I don't feel that the consumer would appreciate that right now."

Steve Mattfeldt, the owner of Sun Valley Rides LLC in Arizona, said that his company has shortened the hours of some of its events, opening later in the day or staying closed Thursdays.

His carnivals, he said, run on three diesel-powered generators. Operating them costs $185 per hour. During slow periods, the cost of running the generators outstrips the revenue from ticket fees.

"What we lose in Thursday's revenue we gain because we're not spending all that extra money on diesel fuel," he said. Mattfeldt said that Sun Valley will increase the price of its rides as well as the prices on concession stand items.

"There's only so much to cut," he said.

Cold Comfort

If your summer plans are more modest -- say, sitting on your stoop, waiting for the local ice cream truck -- make sure you've got extra change handy.

James Conway, the vice president of Mister Softee, said some of the ice cream truck franchise's cold treats will cost an extra quarter this summer.

But Conway said that it's largely Mister Softee franchise holders -- those who actually operate the 625 Mister Softee trucks -– who are shouldering much of the increased fuel costs.

Franchise holders, Conway said, have to cope with increases in two different kinds of fuel -- gas, which powers the trucks, and diesel, which powers the refrigerators and other machinery on the trucks.

"It's been like a double whammy," he said.

Rising food prices, meanwhile, haven't helped either.

Conway said that there is a bright side for the franchise this summer: As more people cut back on their summer vacations, they're more likely to be home when the ice cream trucks roll by.

Saving the Summer

Some travel and recreation-oriented companies are hoping to attract wary consumers by offering to help them shoulder their gas bills.

The Rosen Hotel Group in Orlando, Fla., is offering $20 gas cards for guests who stay at least two nights in one of the company's five hotels. In California, the resort association of Big Bear Lake is offering gas cards valued between $25 and $100 for tourists who stay at certain area lodges.

A handful of hotels in Virginia and more than a dozen in New Hampshire are promoting their gas deals with the help of their home states: Tourism bureaus in both states have posted information on the deals on their Web sites.

Some businesses are offering incentives beyond fuel savings. Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom in Allentown, Pa., is offering a discount to local residents -- those living in the Greater Lehigh Valley area -– for two weekends this month. Ticket prices for residents will be cut from $38.99 to $20.99.

As more people opt to stay closer to home this summer, Dorney public relations manager Charles Hutchison said the park expects to see more business from local and regional visitors.

AAA Auto Club South spokesman Gregg Laskoski said that the tourism industry overall is amping up its appeal to local customers.

"I think a lot of the various conventions and business bureaus in almost every state are taking a look at how to more closely target consumers who live within a 100-mile radius within their attractions and beaches and everything else," he said. "It's the idea of discovering what's in your backyard."