Economics of an Eclipse: Tourism Boost or Total Bust?


Thanks to astronomy and a little thing known as the internet, you’d have to be hiding under a rock to be unaware of our impending celestial event today: a solar eclipse where the path of totality stretches across the entire United States.

Cities along that path – where the sun will cast a perfect full shadow around the moon – are hoping and planning for a big bump in tourism.

While viewers in Indianapolis will see about 92% coverage of the sun, those in Evansville will see about 99% and Jeffersonville residents will see about 96%, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT).

But Hoosiers interested in seeing the full totality need only travel a few hours south to Hopkinsville, Kentucky, where they can be near the “Greatest Eclipse” point and will be able to see the eclipse last for two minutes and 40 seconds. A number of other Kentucky cities will also be prime eclipse-viewing locations, including Paducah, Bowling Green and Madison.

Cities throughout the country are preparing to cash in on the once-in-a-lifetime event – the most recent coast-to-coast solar eclipse was in 1918 – by building and upgrading infrastructure. A CNBC report on the subject highlights Hopkinsville spending half a million dollars on sidewalk and other improvements, while a Casper, Wyoming, a downtown plaza is costing $8.5 million (which was already planned and needed by the city, but stimulated by the eclipse potential), according to CNBC.

That same report cautions that because the path of totality is relatively accessible and there are numerous highway exits along the route, entities might end up overspending on projects without recouping additional tourism dollars. Additionally, the concern is that too many eclipse tourists could put a strain on things like gas, food and local infrastructure and might backfire in the form of a public relations nightmare if crowds overstress local health care facilities or get stranded without gas or lodging.

The economic benefit (or cost) of the solar eclipse won’t be calculated until after the heavenly bodies have realigned. But if the fervor around scrounging for the last pair of unclaimed eclipse glasses is any indication, it’s possible those cities and towns made a safe bet on a short-term tourism event.

INDOT is also warning travelers in southern Indiana to plan for traffic congestion and reminding Hoosiers that overnight camping at rest areas is prohibited. INDOT is also urging motorists to pay attention to the road during the eclipse, turn on headlights when it gets dark out and don’t stop along the highway to view or take photos.

And remember to take safety precautions when viewing the solar eclipse, from wherever you choose to view it. Wear ISO-certified protective eye glasses or (if you’re like me and didn’t get glasses in time) make a pinhole projection. The American Astrological Society has instructions here on how to construct one.

Happy viewing!

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