Once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse is a bonanza for hotels, airlines

(CNBC, Aug 20,2107): A once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse is providing a great business opportunity for hotels and airlines, who are looking to cash in on the event — the first of its kind since 1918.

Many hotel chains, including Marriott International, are offering packages to travelers who are heading to cities in the path of the eclipse, which will follow a southeastern route from Oregon to South Carolina on Aug. 21.

Marriott, the world’s largest hotel chain by market cap, is highlighting five cities across the country for packages that include themed cocktails and complimentary viewing glasses.

The number of rooms booked in 16 locations in the path of the eclipse is up 60 percent compared to last year in those same locations, according to the company.

Hilton is another firm trying to entice customers with special offers. The company has more than 180 hotels in the portfolio in the “path of totality,” according to Joe Berger, an executive vice president. At one of those locations, which is not yet sold out, rates start at $425. For the previous week, the same room is available for $199.

Cities in the path of totality will be completely dark when the eclipse hits.

Berger said they are seeing “strong double-digit demand” for hotels that are within the path or at a driving distance to it.

One Hilton branch in St. Louis is seeing demand 51.1 percent higher for Aug. 20, “eclipse Sunday,” than average Sundays over the past two months. The next day tells a similar story, with an increase of 40.1 percent, according to John Surtin, a director at the location.

In Nashville, one of the largest cities directly in the eclipse’s path, InterContinental Hotels Group, another large hotel chain, has three hotels in the city. Two are sold out and the general manager of the third, Mark Hayes, said his hotel is sold out for Sunday night and almost sold out for Monday. He said comparable weekends historically see occupancy of about 55 percent on Sunday night and 80 percent on Monday.

Sundays are usually the slowest nights for the industry, which should benefit eclipse seekers as they try to find accommodations.

“It’s no surprise that folks are coming in from all corners to witness the solar eclipse in a city that loves any occasion to throw a party,” Hayes said.

Southwest Airlines last week announced its flights that are most likely to experience the maximum effect of the eclipse. For eclipse enthusiasts, the flights will include “commemorative flare,” according to a press release, which includes viewing glasses and special cocktails. The flights include one departing Seattle, another from Portland and three leaving from Denver.

One town, Hopkinsville, Kentucky, has been particularly adept at positioning itself for the boom surrounding the infrequent event. About an 80-minute drive from Nashville, Hopkinsville is in the band of totality. The domain eclipseville.com has been snatched up by city of roughly 30,000 and offers visitors a countdown clock, tips for building viewing glasses and where to stay in the city.

With such excitement, hotels in the area are raising prices accordingly. At the local La Quinta Inn & Suites, prices are $425 a night, up from a $93 average on Google for the weekend before. The hotel has had no vacancy since February and a manager there likened the hoopla to the Super Bowl. The Holiday Inn, the biggest hotel in the area, is offering flat packages at $499 and still has some rooms remaining.

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