Perhaps you remember The Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017. As the first of its kind in the hyper-digital era, around 20 million people across the United States witnessed this rare occurrence. Now, another solar eclipse is on the horizon that’s set to last nearly twice as long and capture even more of the public’s attention. According to Travel Market Report, April 8, 2024 is poised “to be the biggest mass travel event ever in the United States.” To understand how campground owners can make the most of this special event and what eclipse resources might be available, Campspot invited Doug Arion, professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at Carthage College and Executive Director of Mountains of Stars, to join us for a webinar series.
In the first webinar we hosted, he explained why this rare celestial event poses an immense opportunity for the campground industry and should not be missed. Below, we summarize the content covered by Doug, including how you can prepare for the 2024 total solar eclipse now as well as where to find eclipse resources.
What is a Solar Eclipse?
As the moon orbits the earth, it periodically comes between the earth and the sun. When this happens, the shadow of the moon hits the earth and blocks the sun. Eclipses are so rare because the width of the moon’s inner shadow—the portion that creates a total eclipse—is only about 100 miles across while the earth is 8,000 miles across.
Many eclipses happen over the ocean where access to and timing of viewing is virtually impossible. Additionally, because the moon’s orbital pattern is somewhat tilted, the moon’s shadow is often cast above or below the earth and on average misses us. Therefore, only people on a tiny bit of land at a very specific time get the benefit of viewing this astronomical wonder.
Why Does the Solar Eclipse Matter for Campgrounds?
First and foremost, campgrounds operate in environments where people go to do things they otherwise couldn’t or wouldn’t do at home: pitch a tent, roast marshmallows, unplug, and stargaze. Stargazing is a major pastime and huge draw for people—from dedicated dark sky parks, to events, clubs, and entire books on the subject.
Unfortunately, 80% of the world’s population can’t see the stars in the night sky due to light pollution in or from urban areas. People must seek out the right conditions and places for optimal viewing, including for the daytime solar eclipse. This makes campgrounds the perfect host locations for this memorable and magical viewing experience. Given the rarity and popularity of celestial events like this, the upcoming total solar eclipse represents a major revenue opportunity for parks, too.
Where Can Campers View the Solar Eclipse?
In 2024, the stars have aligned for the best eclipse viewing to take place in the United States. There are actually two major eclipses happening within the next year: an annular solar eclipse on October 14, 2023 (or “ring of fire” eclipse) and a total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.
Major U.S. cities in the path of the October eclipse include Oregon Dunes, Lake Powell, Four Corners (UT/AZ/CO/NM), Santa Fe, Roswell, and San Antonio. Major U.S. cities in the path of the main event on April 8 include Dallas, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Cape Girardeau, Rochester, and Buffalo. Cities in these paths will have a tremendous opportunity to host guests traveling from around the world and provide coveted views.
People are already booking accommodations in cities along the total eclipse pathway. If you’re near or just outside of one of these cities, you still have a strategic advantage. As other areas fill up, your location may offer visitors less congested and less competitive lodging. Furthermore, guests who stay at your park can always drive closer to view the eclipse as needed.
Even if your park isn’t located within the direct path of the two major events, some portion of the sun will still be eclipsed and visible from North America, except for western-most Alaska. A partial solar eclipse is an equally rare and mesmerizing opportunity for viewers, especially considering an event like this won’t happen again in the U.S. until 2045!
What Can I Do to Take Advantage of the Solar Eclipses and When Should I Start?
Start now! It’s not too soon to start planning for the 2024 total eclipse, and certainly the 2023 annular eclipse. The best way to take advantage of the crowds these events will draw is to decide now what type of package you want to offer—if any. Here are a few examples and considerations that were discussed.
If April 8 is sooner than your usual opening day, decide if you want to open earlier in 2024 (weather depending) or only open for that weekend and resume regular operations in May. Offer day passes for viewing if overnight accommodations will be too much to manage.
Since April 8, 2024 is a Monday, consider putting a three-night minimum in place to ensure weekend traffic or a discount for guests who want to extend their stay into the following week days.
Decide how you will adjust your rates for this special weekend or leverage Campspot’s dynamic pricing tool.
Consider selling unique souvenirs to mark the memorable occasion, such as branded and dated t-shirts. You can also sell certified safe eclipse viewers and glasses or even affordable telescopes (more on that below!)
There are many related groups you can partner with to enrich the guest experience. Charter a bus to transport guests closer to a direct-path viewing site. Connect with your local astronomy club or university to bring an expert guide/speaker on site.
Because the actual eclipse will only last a few minutes at most, expand the event to include other local attractions at your property, such as a food truck, post-eclipse fireworks, or Pink Floyd tribute band.
Are There Eclipse Resources and Items I Should Purchase in Preparation?
Absolutely. The number one item that is likely to sell out by fall 2023 is eclipse glasses to protect your eyes from harmful rays. Eclipse glasses are just as important, if not more important, in regions of the country that will only experience a partial eclipse because the glasses will be necessary for the entire eclipse. Doug cautions operators and campers alike not to buy eclipse glasses on Amazon. There were many sellers of counterfeit glasses leading up to the 2017 eclipse and these did not offer adequate eye protection. Here is a list of vendors who supply safe solar filters and viewers.
Galileoscope is a low cost, high quality telescope kit that was invented by industry experts, including Doug. It’s uniquely compatible with proprietary solar filters and sun shades, which are perfect for viewing the eclipses. The company offers educational webinars on how to assemble and use the Galileoscope along with its optional tripod. To stock up your camp store for this summer, you can pre-order here.
Further Eclipse Resources
The mission of Doug’s organization, Mountains of Stars, is to persuade people to treat the environment better through astronomy education and training. Their website has a wealth of information about the upcoming eclipses. They also host remote educational programs and they have portable planetariums and telescopes available for use in northeastern states.
The American Astronomical Society has downloadable photos, posters, and other eclipse resources for promoting and planning ahead. Here is a list of their upcoming webinars, too. Finally, here is an interactive map where you can enter your exact coordinates and see the type of eclipse (partial vs. whole) that will be visible from your property and the estimated eclipse duration.
Watch the Webinar for More Revenue-Driving Tips and Eclipse Resources
To watch the full webinar recording from March 22, click here.
How to Leverage Astrotourism as Part of Your Campground’s Revenue Strategy
Want to keep learning about how to take moments like the eclipse (or even full moons, new moons, or meteor showers) to drive revenue for your campground? Check out this follow-up to our first webinar with Doug on the topic of astrotourism and dark skies.
Eclipse Resources Recap
- American Astronomical Society
- Mountains of Stars
- Suppliers of Safe Solar Filters and Viewers
- Interactive Path of Totality Map
Haley Dalian is a lifelong Michigander who takes advantage of recreation throughout the state’s changing seasons, such as skiing up north in the winter and scuba diving the Great Lakes in the summer. A former Campspot marketing employee, Haley is pursuing a Master of Science degree at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability. She is passionate about solving the world’s sustainability challenges, enjoys performing improvisational comedy, and has never met a potato she didn’t like.