The Washington Post: Americans are spending big on eclipse tourism



Bigger than the Super Bowl’: Americans are spending big on eclipse tourism

Eclipse viewing parties are everywhere, from alpaca farms in Texas to ski slopes in Vermont

March 27, 2024 at 6:00 a.m. EDT
For those hoping to catch a glimpse of the total solar eclipse in April, there’s no shortage of options. Six Flags Over Texas is hosting a “Solar Coaster” viewing party. Holland America has a 22-day Solar Eclipse Cruise. And after filling up one path-of-totality flight, Delta Air Lines has added a second, promising unadulterated views from “extra-large” windows

But almost everything is sold out.

The total solar eclipse, which will be visible frommore than a dozen states, is fueling a small spending boom across the nation. Hotels are booked, campgrounds are full and rental cars are nowhere to be found around the April 8 event. States including Arkansas and Indiana are expecting record-breaking travel and spending.

“This is likely going to be the single biggest tourism event we’ve ever had,” said Michael Pakko, an economist at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, who is projecting a statewide windfall of $105 million. “Obviously, it’s going to be a short duration — a long weekend — but for that concentrated period of time, it’s going to be a very big deal.”

It’s also rare. A total solar eclipse — in which the moon completely covers the sun for a few minutes, creating a pitch-black “path of totality” — is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many. It’s been 99 years since New York had one, and 218 years for Ohio. This time around, the path of totality will stretch from Texas to Maine, covering parts of several states, including Missouri, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, along the way.

The boost to those local economies could be significant. Texas, which is expected to get the biggest influx of visitors, could pocket $428 million in eclipse-related spending, according to Ray Perryman, an economist in Waco. Johnson County, Ind., is forecasting as much as $25 million in extra revenue, while Rochester, N.Y., expects about $10 million.

Americans emerged from the pandemic ready to shell out, especially for memorable experiences. The total solar eclipse is the ultimate example, with the next one being two decades away for most of the United States. In all,as many as 3.7 million peopleare expected to travel to the path of totality for the eclipse, according to estimates from geographer Michael Zeiler.

Robust consumer spending — which has continued despite high prices — has kept the economy chugging along at a time when many had feared a recession. Spending on international travel and live entertainment surged nearly 30 percent last year, five times the rate of overall spending growth, as Americans splurged on European vacations and Taylor Swift concerts.Eclipse travel is expected to fuel another mini spending boom.

Indiana,for example, is preparing for a record 500,000 visitors — more than seven times the attendance at the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis, according to Amy Howell, vice president of tourism at the Indiana Destination Development Corporation.

State officials in transportation, natural resources and homeland security have been meeting for months to iron out logistics, such as port-a-potty availability and traffic plans, she said. Some schools are closed that day, and garbage collection will be on hold.

“We know how to host big events, but this is huge — bigger than the Super Bowl and the Indy 500 put together, plus the state fair, which is 18 days long,” she said. “We’re expecting to have all of those visitors in one day.”

A thousand miles away, Steven Wright is making similar calculations at his Vermont ski resort. The 900 rooms at Jay Peak have been sold out since last spring, with the earliest eclipse-related reservations arriving five years ago. In all, some 8,000 people are expected to take part in the resort’s festivities, which start at $365 for two people.

A Pink Floyd cover band will play the “Dark Side of the Moon” album right as the eclipse begins. Also unfolding then: a 50-person wedding on the mountain’s peak.

“It’s an awful lot of buildup for a few minutes,” said Wright, the property’s general manager.

These types of viewing parties are cropping up everywhere, including atalpaca farmsin Texas,Hot Springs National Parkin Arkansas and theIndianapolis Motor Speedway. For those seeking a more exclusive experience, T.E.I. Tours and Travel is offeringprivate path-of-totality flightsstarting at $9,750 per person.

The Planetary Society, a nonprofit headed by Bill Nye “the Science Guy,” is hosting a 1,000-person camp-out at a wedding venue in Fredericksburg, Tex. There will be astronomy talks in the glass chapel and telescopes and games on the lawn. Tickets are $325 a pop, and so far the attendee list includes people from nearly all 50 states, plus Finland, Japan and Spain.

“We are huge space nerds, and seeing a total solar eclipse, it stirs something deeply profound inside of us,” spokeswoman Danielle Gunn said. “People travel all over the world to see this — and once you see one total eclipse, you get why.”

This will be the third total eclipse for Nazmus Nasir. He and his wife began planning their trip from Boston to Marble Falls, Tex., seven years ago, after seeing the last one in Tennessee. They nabbed an Airbnb in 2022, as soon as bookings went online, and plan to drive the 30 hours to central Texas in a rented minivan with their 11-month-old son.

“I don’t think words can describe how it feels to be under totality,” said Nasir, a 34-year-old software engineer and amateur astro-photographer. “Nothing really prepares you for it. I knew what was happening, but my brain still couldn’t believe what I was looking at.”

That’s the experience Otilia Vindfeldt Jensen is hoping for. She and her husband are flying from Denmark to Mesquite, Tex., for the town’s “Solar Rodeo.”

“The way people talk about it, there’s so much awe and they find it difficult to find words for what they’ve seen,” she said. “I really want to be a part of that.”

Jensen, a 31-year-old clinical researcher, and her husband talked about it for over a year, she said, before finally booking $1,500 flights last month. The couple plans to spend three weeks in the United States, most of it driving across Texas.

The rush of visitors is expected to give many small towns and rural areas an unprecedented boost. In Greenville, Maine, the Lodge at Moosehead Lake has been booked for months in anticipation of the eclipse. But people are still calling — even offering to pay for a spot on the inn’s back deck or its parking lot, owner Beverly Burgess said.

Burgess has turned down those requests and is instead focused on figuring out how to manage the crowds. She’s loading up on extra food, has a generator on hand in case the power goes out and has hired a parking attendant for the day of the eclipse, when Greenville’s population is projected to swell from about 1,400 to more than 30,000.

“This is certainly more people than we’ve ever seen before,” she said. “It’s a lot for this little town.”

Julieann Taylor, 66, is determined to see the eclipse — and has hotel rooms booked in three states, just in case. The retired nurse, who lives in northwest Indiana, is planning to drive to Arkansas with her husband, sister, adult son and dachshund, Dieter. But if that falls through or theweather is bad, she’s also reserved rooms closer to home, in Indianapolis and Findlay, Ohio.

Taylor saw the partial eclipse in 2017, but wishes she’d experienced totality. “In that moment, I said, ‘If we’re still alive, we’re going to go to the next one,’” she said. “This is probably our last chance in our lifetime, so we’re going to make the effort.”

Taylor has spent about $2,500 on hotel bookings and says she can barely contain her excitement. Her husband, though, is less enthused: “He’s just not into this at all,” she said. “He’s complaining, ‘Why are we going? We could be going somewhere fun other than Arkansas.’”

In any case, Taylor is powering on. She’s poring over satellite maps to find the best viewing areas and filling a Yeti cooler with water, fruit and cheese sticks in case they’re stuck on the road for long stretches.

“If we miss it,” she said, “it won’t be for a lack of trying.”

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