As this year’s total solar eclipse draws near, it is expected to close out a record summer for tourism in the mountains. BPR’s Davin Eldridge has more…
Try booking a room anywhere in the mountains, and you’ll have little-if-any luck at all.
With the eclipse set to cast its shadow across the region’s seven westernmost counties, reservations were made in many of the area’s hotels and campgrounds, many moons ago. It’s ensured the tourism development authorities in each of these counties have remained busy. Just ask Nick Breedlove, Director of tourism in Jackson County.
“We have people calling me daily from NY, Philadelphia, D.C., who are trying to find out info about the eclipse.”
Like its neighboring counties, Jackson has numerous events planned in the days leading up to the eclipse. But as Breedlove points out, the long-awaited event really only serves to augment an already burgeoning tourism industry here in the mountains.
“This compliments it perfectly, but what’s unique to the solar eclipse happening this summer is it brings people here who have never experienced the mountains.”
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is in the path of totality, welcomed more than 11 million visitors last year, making it the most visited in the National Park Service. To put things into perspective, last year about 7 million people visited the Eiffel Tower, and approximately 9 million visited the Great Wall of China.
“We don’t know how many people it’s going to attract, but we know people will come here that have never been here before,” that’s WCU’s Dr. Steve Morse, a professor of tourism at WCU. Each year Dr. Morse prepares economic impact studies on seasonal tourism, and while summers and falls in the mountains are typically the region’s strongest times of year, he says this year’s eclipse is presenting the region with a rare opportunity. “Tourism is the first date for economic development. Maybe some people that visit here that want to start some businesses, or entrepreneurs, or second vacation homes that never been here before, and that’s hard to measure, but we know a lot of people are gonna be here thatll be here for the first time.”
Dr. Morse says the impact of the eclipse won’t be huge, but it will offer a measurable bump in growth.
“We predict in WNC, generally a four-and-a-half to five percent increase in tourism during the summer. That’ll be driven largely by this August 21 event. And it’ll end the summer on a high note with a lot of tourists here. We note that gasoline prices are as low as they’ve been in three years, so that’s not a factor this year. It’ll be good for tourism all around.”
Tourism development commissions throughout the seven westernmost counties will spend more than $60-thousand to promote events in their area for the eclipse, with Transylvania County spending the most, and Macon, Clay and Cherokee Counties spending the least.
***It should be noted these figures only reflect the expenditures of TOURISM BOARDS in the seven westernmost counties of WNC, and do not include figures from municipalities or county governments. These figures also reflect what each board spent as of press time, and most are likely to increase slightly by the time of the eclipse, according to the board members contacted.***