Here Comes the Sun. The Eclipse Is This Year’s Top Travel Phenomenon

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On April 8, a total solar eclipse will pass diagonally across the U.S., from south to east, promising a tourism surge. Are destinations ready to make the most of the visitor influx?

By Dawit Habtemariam
March 6, 2024

John Mason has traveled around the world to see eclipses for more than 40 years. Last April, he traveled 20,000 miles to see a total eclipse that lasted 58 seconds on Australia’s remote Christmas Island.

“It’s like a drug, no matter how great an eclipse you’ve seen, you want to see another one,” he said. Mason is an umbraphile – someone who chases eclipses.

This April, he’ll travel over 4,000 miles from the UK to Texas to see his 21st eclipse. 

During a total solar eclipse, the moon blocks out the sun’s face. Total solar eclipses happen around two times every three years but aren’t visible in most locations each time. The next one widely visible in the U.S. will occur on April 8. Mason will lead a 16-day tour centered around the celestial event. 

What makes this eclipse so unique is that it will cross the U.S. diagonally south to the east and bring spectators to countless communities. 

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Many destinations will see bursts of tourism. “It’s a great way of forcing you to go to places you might not otherwise go and to see them in a different way,” said Mason.

Mason’s tour group itinerary includes stops in New Mexico and Texas, with visits to observatories, museums, and science centers. 

Mason and his tour group are among the millions of travelers expected to travel long distances to see the solar eclipse in the United States. Between 1 and 4 million travelers are expected to head to the totality zones, according to the Great American Eclipse.

The Star Attraction: A Total Solar Eclipse

About a million visitors are expected to visit the Niagara Falls area, said Sarah Harvey, director of communications for Destination Niagara Falls USA.

Sarah Smith is planning a road trip from New York City with her friends to stay at an Airbnb in Danbury, New Hampshire. “We’re excited to share the experience of seeing it together,” she said.

The travel industry is gearing up with experiences tailored around the event. Delta and Southwest and cruise operator Holland America are offering special trips in the eclipse’s path of totality. 

A lot of the interest started after a similar eclipse in 2017, though that one was shorter and covered less ground than this year’s will.

“2024 has been on our calendar since 2017,” said Dan Parcher, who is renting an RV with his family to see the April 8 event. They’ll travel from Denver and pick their viewing spot in the path of totality based on weather conditions. 

Hot Springs, Arkansas had a partial eclipse in 2017. The local tourism board realized it was going to have a total eclipse in 2024 and set up a Facebook event that gathered intense interest.

“Someone on the staff said ‘Let’s make a Facebook event around it. ’I just kind of laughed it off,” said Bill Solleder, director of marketing for Arkansas’ Visit Hot Springs. “Literally two hours later, over 70,000 people had said they were interested in the eclipse. This is without any advertising dollars or anything.”

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Dude, You Don’t Want to Miss This Eclipse

In the U.S., the April 8 eclipse will touch Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Tennessee and Michigan.

How long the eclipse will last depends on where you view it. Spectators in some Texas cities can expect over 4 minutes with the total eclipse. In Niagara Falls, it will last almost 4 minutes.

During the celestial event, the sky turns dark as if it’s dusk, the temperature drops, and the sun’s corona becomes visible. Saturn, Venus, and Jupiter (and some of the brightest stars) will share the sky with the sun and the moon, said Cris White, an eclipse coordinator for NASA’s Earth to Sky.

“You look up where the sun should be. It’s like this giant black eye, like looking at you from the sky and it looks so wrong and so amazing,” said Parcher, who recalls his experience in 2017.

“It kind of almost gives you a sense of the solar system.”

The next total solar eclipse will be visible in Greenland, Iceland, Spain, Russia, and a small area of Portugal on August 26, 2026, according to NASA. 

Cities on Path of Totality Win Tourism Lottery

“Totality” cities – those where viewers can see the full eclipse – are going to see a big tourism boost during the week of the eclipse. During the 2017 eclipse, Nebraska received an estimated $127 million in economic impact, according to Visit Nebraska. It was the biggest tourism event in Nebraska’s history.

“It will be quite possibly one of the largest days in tourism in Arkansas history and in Hot Springs National Park,” said ​Hot Springs’ Solleder.

It’s going to be bigger than traditional American outdoor holidays. “The eclipse has about eight times as many bookings as Memorial Day,” said Jon Gray, CEO of RVshare, a rental site for recreational vehicles. “It’s going to be a larger booking event than the Fourth of July, typically our biggest booking event of the year.”

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Domestic flight bookings for totality cities have surged four times their volume last year from April 1 to 7, according to ForwardKeys. Little Rock, Arkansas is seeing the biggest boost with a 423% jump.

International bookings for “totality destinations” are up 133% from last year. The eclipse is even drawing travelers out of Japan, a country with a sluggish outbound travel recovery. Japanese bookings for the U.S. eclipse cities have seen a whopping 2,223% increase.

The eclipse is drawing tourists to areas they otherwise would not have gone. “The people that are on the path to totality won a natural lottery,” said Bram Gallagher, an economist for AirDNA.

Hotels are going to be filled with eclipse viewers. In 2017, hotels in the path of totality saw a 244% increase in revenue per available room the day before the eclipse, according to CoStar’s STR. 

Expedia said that, as of March 1, the North American destinations seeing the biggest year-over-year surges in hotel searches for the April event were Burlington, Vermont (+1,155%); Little Rock, Arkansas (+985%); and Dayton, Ohio (+705%).

Hotel markets are seeing big spikes in bookings for the April 8th eclipse. Over 50% of Austin’s hotels are booked for the night before the event.

“We’ve heard from several hotels that they’re sold close to sell out,” said Wesley Lucas, director of communications for Visit Austin.

Smaller cities saw especially massive spikes in occupancy after the eclipse. Colombia, Missouri, saw the biggest spike, with a 162% increase in occupancy.

A total eclipse from 2017 in Greenville, SC.

“Many of our hotels are already booked,” said Niagara Falls’ Harvey.

Short-term rentals are seeing a big boost. Dallas, the largest city in the eclipse’s path, has seen a 941% rise in nights for April 8, according to AirDNA. 

“Everyone we talk to has been raising their prices and are selling out,” said Hot Springs’ Solleder.

Across the U.S., smaller cities and rural locations experienced a 150% boost in booked nights compared to the same time last year, according to AirDNA.

Towns to Be Flooded with Out-of-Towners

Not all visitors will be large tourism economic contributors. A burst of day visitors will flood the freeways, roads, parks, parking lots, and various locations.

“We just parked ourselves there, and there were thousands of people there,” said Parcher, who recalled his 2017 eclipse viewing on a freeway off-ramp in Wyoming. “People kept pouring in behind us and just hanging out in cars. Traffic was horrific on the way back.”

Keep in mind people are already living in these communities. About 31 million people live inside the path of totality, according to the Great American Eclipse.

Yet visitors are going to be lingering for hours. “If you brought your car, there’s nothing to do, you’re just waiting for the eclipse to come,” said Parcher. This year, he’s renting an RV.

Communities will devote massive resources to serving the influx of visitors from all over the world. In Arkansas, Hot Springs National Park and the city, state, and county governments have been spending months preparing their infrastructure, sanitation, police, fire, hotels, and restaurants for the visitor boom, said Hot Springs’ Solleder.

Destinations are hosting events and activities to keep visitors entertained. Niagara Falls will have fireworks after the eclipse to prevent visitors from all leaving at once. 

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In Hot Springs National Park, Atlas Obscura is hosting a four-day music festival centered around the eclipse. Visit Hot Springs has been encouraging attractions and businesses to give visitors more activities on the days before and after the eclipse. 

“If we can get everyone here early, that should help with traffic congestion and hotel and restaurant inventory,” said Solleder.

For many small communities, there’s going to be unprecedented stress on local infrastructure. Ahead of the eclipse, Bell County, Texas’ government declared a state of emergency. The county projects to see an influx of people double to triple their population of 400,000.

“Everything from our first responders to our health care systems to our fueling stations to our highways to our emergency management systems … all of these, and more, could be severely strained by this influx of people,” wrote Bell County Judge David Blackburn in a statement.

Growing Group of Global Eclipse Chasers

Just like in 2017, once the 2024 eclipse ends, millions of Americans could become umbraphiles overnight. Once a traveler experiences their first total eclipse, they become hooked, said Mason.

“As soon as this one is over, people will think, ‘Where’s the next one?’ Well, it’s in Spain in 2026. Where’s the one after that? It’s across North Africa in 2027. Where’s the one after that? It’s in Australia in 2028,” he said. 

There won’t be another total eclipse in the contiguous U.S. until 2044, forcing many Americans to travel abroad. 

Given that the U.S. is one of the largest outbound tourism markets in the world, any destination caught in a path of totality could see a tourism boom.

“A lot of people who see this eclipse in the U.S. this April will be thinking ‘Yeah, we’ll travel somewhere. We’ll see another one,’“ said Mason with a smile. “I’m sure that’ll happen.’

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