Businesses, residents look to capitalize on August’s celestial event
Pam Allen and her siblings recently planned a trip home in August to watch the solar eclipse and visit their mother in Ammon, Idaho.
The Oregon resident said she checked some hotel prices, as her mom’s place is a little tight to fit everyone. The cheapest rate she could find: $764, at the Hampton Inn.
Hotel employees assured Allen that was the correct price for one room, for one night, on the weekend of the eclipse. The same hotel had charged her $80 per night in the past.
“Wow,” Allen recalled thinking. “I guess we won’t be staying there.”
Hotels aren’t the only businesses set to reap huge profits during the eclipse. Estimates say hundreds of thousands of tourists from around the world will descend on the region in the days and hours before Aug. 21. Numerous local businesses and residents, from rafting companies to Airbnb hosts, have started planning ways to capitalize on the rare event.
It will be the first total solar eclipse seen from the mainland U.S. in nearly four decades. A higher probability of clear weather is a leading factor that may convince people to see the eclipse in eastern Idaho over other locales, eclipse expert Michael Zeiler has said. Zeiler, a cartographer from Santa Fe, New Mexico, runs the website greatamericaneclipse.com.
Jeff Zausch, a Pocatello resident and reality star on Discovery Channel’s survival show “Naked and Afraid,” several months ago came up with an idea to guide a group of tourists up Mt. Borah, the tallest peak in Idaho, to view the eclipse.
The 29-year-old proposed the trip on his Facebook fan page, and within hours 13 people from around the country were signed up, he said. Each will pay Zausch $1,500 to help them get in shape, provide them gear and guide them up the 12,667-foot peak over the course of two days. Mt. Borah will serve as the kick-off trip for Zausch’s new company, Jeff Zausch Adventure Tours, he said.
Amy Baumer, a Salmon-Challis National Forest spokeswoman, said officials recently began planning for what’s expected to be a large increase in forest visitors around the eclipse — especially in the Mt. Borah area. A commercial climbing trip such as Zausch’s requires a Forest Service permit, she said.
Established outdoor companies are getting in on the eclipse action, too. Jackson, Wyo.-based Mad River Boat Trips is offering a “once-in-a-lifetime chance to witness a total eclipse of the sun during a whitewater trip,” a recent announcement said. The eight-mile trip down the Snake River includes a lunch stop and eclipse viewing session. It costs about $300 per person — or more than three times the usual rate.
The OARS whitewater rafting company, meanwhile, is offering a fully-catered weeklong trip down the Salmon River during the eclipse, with astronomy professor Don Kurtz onboard. “There will be talks about constellations, planets, stars, galaxies, and life in the universe under the stunning dark skies at river camps,” the OARS website states.
Pricing starts at around $2,700 per person.
The eclipse will pass over a swath of land roughly between Shelley and Ashton in eastern Idaho. Areas in the center of the path, such as the Menan Buttes outside Rexburg, will be covered in darkness the longest, something Andrew South was well aware of.
The South family owns much of South Menan Butte, and lives in a subdivision on the north side. Along with another landowner, Brent Gunderson, they recently came up with the idea to transform the butte into a massive gathering place where tourists can camp out and watch the eclipse. (The North Menan Butte is on public land, and also figures to be a popular viewing spot.)
“We know people are going to be out here no matter what,” South said. “They’re going to be all over the place.”
A website South put up, idahosolareclipse.com, advertises parking, tent camping and RV sites, at prices ranging from $20 to $200. Premium parking and camping will be located inside the butte’s volcanic crater.
“It’s a pretty unique spot,” South said.
Others are marketing their homes and backyards to eclipse-goers on Airbnb and similar sites.
One Rexburg couple asks those searching for eclipse lodging on Airbnb to come stay in their extra bedroom, and watch the eclipse from the backyard. The price is $500 per night and includes breakfast.
A Rigby resident is advertising seven, four-person tents in their backyard for the eclipse: “All you bring is a sleeping bag,” The Airbnb listing states. The deal includes “continental breakfast and dinner,” and costs $550 per tent per night, with a two-night minimum. The person advertising the tents did not return a message seeking more details.
Indeed, camping might be the only remaining lodging option for eclipse visitors who didn’t book a hotel room months ago. According to an Expedia search, nearly all the region’s hotel rooms — including in Pocatello — were booked for the days surrounding the eclipse, which falls on a Monday.
Rooms that remain are going for a premium. On the night of the eclipse the Best Western Cottontree Inn in Idaho Falls was charging $1,500 for a two-queen suite that usually costs less than $200. Two nights before the eclipse, the Best Western Driftwood Inn listed $460 for a room that typically runs under $150.
Allen is set on coming for the eclipse, despite the shocking hotel prices. She recalled seeing a partial eclipse growing up in Idaho Falls in 1979, and it was “pretty phenomenal.”
And who needs a hotel bed, anyway? Allen and her husband recently ordered an air mattress on Amazon. They plan to set it up in her mom’s backyard.
“I know it’s going to be a great weekend,” she said.