Solar Eclipse 2017: Hotels in Path of Phenomenon Ready to Cash in

NATIONAL REPORT—It’s a rare astronomical event: the total eclipse of the sun. It’s a natural phenomenon that evokes an emotional response—joy, delight, awe—and is remembered long after the moon temporarily blocks the face of the sun. Whether it is poking holes into cardboard to create a DIY pinhole projector as a kid or driving across the country to spot the eclipse in a new locale, people often remember where they were when it happened.

Hoteliers in the path of totality are grasping a golden opportunity to drive revenue at properties through creative booking packages, inspired F&B and, in some cases, by increasing room rates. They’re in the memory making business, too, and many are taking great care to create unforgettable experiences on-property.

In a conversation with Hotel Business, hoteliers in the path of the eclipse weighed in on room rates, programming and other preparations for the main event.

Room Rates & Revenue

In South Carolina, the marketing and revenue teams at Wild Dunes Resort, A Destination Hotel saw business pick up during what is normally a relatively slow time for bookings. They also set significant records in terms of rate, peaking at $700 where the previous high was around $450, explained Cody Cramer, revenue manager.

“We’re seeing huge jumps in ADR. Our growth is at $30 or $40, a huge uptick in average rate year over year. We saw a lot more volume this time compared to last year,” said Cramer. “A lot of people were calling about the eclipse, and the majority of our pace numbers that were ahead were due to the eclipse,” said Cramer. “Guests booked over very similar days, we saw the pattern and had a package up on the website. We’ve been aware for about a year or so. We have 480 units and we’re about 98% full.”

At the Salishan Spa and Golf Resort in Oregon, GM Steven Hurst has had a plan and rate strategy in place to support the eclipse for nearly 18 months. “Unlike some properties in the path of totality that changed strategies midstream or chose to charge extreme rates, we maintained a consistent rate structure and minimum night stay that’s reflective of a typical high-season weekend,” said Hurst. “We’ve stayed true to that strategy and it’s resulted in a sold out night leading up to the eclipse and high occupancy over the weekend.”

In Nebraska at the Lincoln Marriott Cornhusker Hotel, Director of Sales & Marketing B. Paul Tunakan has been excited ever since he did the budget and saw an eclipse would be happening. “I’m kind of geeky. I enjoy that kind of stuff. I knew we’d be busy, but we left rates and all our deposit and cancellation polices the same until a month ago when we got to 85% percent sold out and wanted to maximize revenue,” said Tunakan. “Normally on Sunday night the rate is $159, and now it is $270 to $300.”

The Residence Inn Breckenridge in Colorado is a hidden gem, according to Pamela A. Brown, director of sales and marketing. “Guests don’t realize Breckenridge is a going to be an affordable and stunning destination to view the eclipse. Therefore, rates for this timeframe have not been inflated and we have a package to drive reservations,” said Brown. “In addition to picking up reservations for Sunday to Tuesday, we anticipate taking market share. In fact, a local competitor released a Solar Eclipse Package shortly after ours went live.”

Rooms were completely sold out since August at the Westin Nashville, noted Maya Stanic, director of marketing. “The demand has been high with visitors from around the world. All the guests will be provided with a solar eclipse welcome amenity—a pair of solar glasses and Eclipse gum,” said Stanic.

Stellar Offerings

At Unscripted Durham, the team dreamed up a specialty cocktail called the Eclipse Unscripted made with activated charcoal.

“Our team wanted to make the special solar eclipse cocktail something that was tasty and refreshing since the viewing will be in the middle of the afternoon here. We added the activated charcoal for a fun twist to represent the eclipse,” said Tabitha Rodriguez, assistant GM at the hotel. “Unscripted Durham has had an eclipse party in the works for a couple of weeks now. We’re excited to experience such a unique occurrence with locals and travelers alike.”

A viewing party will be hosted at I|O Godfrey at The Godfrey Hotel Chicago, one of the largest indoor-outdoor rooftop lounges in the area. Food and Beverage Director Grant Gedemer has been in party planning mode for the big event since early July.

“We ordered the eclipse viewing glasses then, but they were already out of stock. We finally found some more, and I think we pretty much obtained the last bulk order that would arrive in time,” said Gedemer.

Watching What Happens Live

Hoteliers are also educating staff about the solar eclipse to make sure they have all the information they need to answer questions from guests and protect their vision should they have the urge to look directly at the eclipse.

“We’ve had several meetings internally with staff to make sure they’re aware of the importance of wearing the glasses that are offered at every single outlet and at check-in,” said Ashleigh Irving, director of marketing, Wild Dunes Resort, A Destination Hotel. “The marketing team developed guest communications and a weekly guest newsletter, and we partnered with an astronomer who is offering sessions on Monday, so guests can learn about the eclipse.”

In a cheeky response, Gedemer added, “For those whose parents never told them, we warned all staff not to stare directly at the sun and told staff to convey the same message to our guests if they are not wearing the eclipse-viewing eyewear, which we will provide to the first 100 people in the door at I|O Godfrey that morning.”

Tunakan offered this advice to travelers and hoteliers alike: “Be patient if you’re driving around and know that weather plays a role. There’s going to be traffic here like a Nebraska football weekend and maybe much worse, so plan to get where you’re going in advance and be patient.”