Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Great American Eclipse Tourism Rush

The countdown is on . . . in a few days there will be a total solar eclipse across North America.

A solar eclipse occurs when the orbit of the moon aligns directly in front of the sun to block its light, plunging sections of the earth into complete darkness for several minutes during the middle of the day.

On August 21, 2017, the Great American Eclipse will make a diagonal path from Oregon to South Carolina. While all of the continental U.S. will be able to see a partial solar eclipse, you must be in the path of totality to experience the total solar eclipse.  The path of totality is the thin ribbon, about 70 miles wide, that the moon’s shadow traces on Earth during a total solar eclipse.

This is the first total eclipse in the continental U.S. since 1979, and the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in 99 years.  NASA’s interactive website for the eclipse provides viewing locations and eclipse information for science geeks and amateurs alike.  According to NASA, the most famous total eclipse occurred in 1133: when King Henry I of England—the son of William the Conqueror—died, the event coincided with a total solar eclipse that lasted 4 minutes and 38 seconds, followed by a struggle for the throne that resulted in chaos and civil war.   

Throughout history, most people feared eclipses, thinking they were a bad omen or an ominous sign from God.  In today’s age, an eclipse is generally viewed as an exciting phenomenon and eclipse tourism is skyrocketing.  A USA Today article, “Eclipse entrepreneurs chase cash ahead of monumental event,” describes the unique businesses popping up to take advantage of Eclipse Mania.

Eclipse entrepreneurs are making everything from T-shirts to children’s books to celestial jewelry to eclipse-viewing glasses.  John Jerit, the owner of American Paper Optics, the largest manufacturer of safe solar eclipse glasses, expects to sell 40 million eclipse glasses.   From coast to coast, preparations are well underway to celebrate this celestial marvel and millions are expected to travel to cities in the path of totality.  

Madras, Oregon, which has a population of about 6,000, has been named by some astronomers as the best spot to watch the eclipse due to its clear weather prospects and prime position in the path of totality.  This tiny town is expecting upwards of 100,000 visitors, which will create a profound economic opportunity.  With all of the Madras hotels booked, farmers are marketing fields for camping (and glamping!), and the town has even hired an event planner to organize the eclipse mania. It will certainly put Madras on the map.

A Wall Street Journal article, “Kentucky Town Aims to Make Hay While the Eclipse Shines,” captures the excitement and entrepreneurial spirit of communities in the path of totality. Hopkinsville, Kentucky will be the point of greatest eclipse (2 minutes and 40 seconds) and they’ve adopted the name “Eclipseville,” hoping to cast their town in a positive light when it is flooded by about 100,000 visitors on August 21st.  The Casey Jones Distillery in Hopkinsville is looking to capitalize on the rush of tourists with a special bottle of liquor, called “Total Eclipse Moonshine,” that they claim “is the closest you can get to bottling nature’s rare phenomenon.”

Nashville is the largest city in the path of totality and there are events planned all over Music City.  In fact, every hotel is booked over eclipse weekend and many have been booked for years. At the Grand Ole Opry, there will be a Total Eclipse Plaza Party with live music to accompany the imagery in the sky. Warby Parker, the eyeglass company based in Nashville, is using the eclipse as a creative marketing opportunity: Warby Parker is giving away paper eclipse glasses in their stores and hosting a contest to fly the lucky winners to Nashville for an eclipse-viewing party.  Be sure to check out the Warby Parker contest video – a delightfully quirky tutorial, set to Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

Beyond the path of totality, Royal Caribbean is even marketing a “Total Eclipse Cruise” with a perfect view of the Great American Eclipse from the ocean.  Or if you’d prefer to watch from the sky, Alaska Airlines is giving away two free tickets to a special eclipse charter flight off the coast of Oregon where you can experience totality from 35,000+ feet from the earth.  This may bring new life to Carly Simon’s 1972 hit, “You’re So Vain” (“Then you flew your Learjet to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun . . .”).

For those of us who will be in the Twin Cities, check out this link. If you live elsewhere, this cool link will show you what to expect in your zip code. This cosmic event is projected to become the most photographed, most shared, and most tweeted event in human history. 

As you take in the Great American Eclipse from behind your special glasses, the juxtaposition of the awesome planetary phenomenon and the entrepreneurial energy of eclipse mania is bound to impress.

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