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

March 28, 2024

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, reports The Washington Post.

But almost everything is sold out.

The total solar eclipse, which will be visible from more 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—during 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, Indiana, is forecasting as much as $25 million in extra revenue; while Rochester, New York, 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 people are 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% 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.

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 at alpaca farms in Texas, Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas,  and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

For those seeking a more exclusive experience, T.E.I. Tours and Travel is offering private path-of-totality flights starting 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, Texas. 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,” spokesperson Danielle Gunn says. “People travel all over the world to see this—and once you see one total eclipse, you get why.”

Research contact: @washingtonpost