Lots of planning, well in advance, is how hotels in the path of totality capitalized on the huge demand surrounding August’s solar eclipse in the U.S.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—The recent “Great American Solar Eclipse,” for which the path of totality stretched across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina, caused a public fervor that hotels with prime views were able to capitalize on to an extent that is unmatched in modern history.
Hotel News Now reached out to hoteliers at properties along the path of totality to get a sense of what they did to make the most of this one-time event, and how they might apply that strategy to other high-demand events in the future.
What lessons did you learn from the eclipse event, and how your hotel managed it?
Union Station Hotel
Michael Nelson, GM, Union Station Hotel, Nashville, Tennessee
“We had a couple of things in our favor. One was the date. Being on a Monday morning/afternoon, that’s a great tipoff for weekend business, so we were able to capitalize on (that): Give them an experience by extending the weekend. Our strategy from the very beginning was to extend the weekend—so, encouraging people for that four-night stay, whether it’s Thursday through Sunday or Friday through Monday. It worked very well for us. What kind of experience can we create? We applied it to the eclipse, and we’ll apply it to any event that comes up in the future as well.
“Everybody else is trying to capitalize on this as well. So we tried to offer something that was different, being an Autograph (Collection) hotel, it’s all about offering authentic, communal, distinctive experiences. We tried to tie packages and experiences to a number of things. No. 1, it’s an astronomical event, so we offered packages that had telescopes; we offered materials on learning about what an eclipse was that people could read about. (Second), we tried to capture the kitschy part of it; we had Milky Way bars and MoonPies; we had moonshine (Bloody) Marys and solar sangrias to get people involved. We provided all of our guests with (eclipse) glasses and … we hosted about 240 people for a brunch that started a couple of hours before the total eclipse, (which included) a band that had a playlist that was all songs (about) the sun and the moon. We set aside a space in our parking area for people to come out and see the full thing. … We had special print made up … (that) says, ‘See the Great American Eclipse at Union Station Hotel’ so we’ve got this iconic poster that we were able to hand out to guests.”
Stephen Lane, Teton Mountain
Lodge & Spa and Hotel
Terra Jackson Hole
Stephen Lane, director of marketing, Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa and Hotel Terra Jackson Hole, Teton Village, Wyoming
“The amount of pre-planning helped prepare for an event that was far less impactful on our properties and community than we thought. The analogy we’ve been using in relation to this event is Y2K. We planned for absolute mayhem, and the crowds in town were nothing more than a busy weekend. Most of the traffic was in Grand Teton National Park, but the impact in Jackson and Teton Village was far below expectations.
"Both properties (Hotel Terra Jackson Hole and Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa) were near sellouts, at some of the highest rates we’ve ever had—approaching holiday rates in the winter.
"However, as a community and destination, we were expecting massive crowds clogging the roads, we were told fuel, groceries, etc., would be out. It was almost like preparing for a major storm that never came. Furthermore, we were expecting the crowd impact to last a few days before and after the eclipse. While Grand Teton National Park had record-breaking crowds, and the road in to the park on the eclipse day was jammed, the area restaurants, shops and infrastructure did not experience the impact we were planning for."
Shari Sizemore, GM, Hampton Inn Carbondale; Carbondale, Illinois
“We did lots of preplanning for this event, staring several months in advance. We made sure we were fully staffed and had extra supplies on hand. When it came to reservations, we carefully managed these at the property to make sure that every guest was looked after and that we didn’t disappoint anyone. As part of our hospitality, we arranged goody bags for all guests when they arrived, which were put together by Carbondale Tourism. They included eclipse glasses for each guest and other little items. We also made an effort to make this an event for our team members, arranging special eclipse T-shirts for everyone. The one thing that I would consider doing differently next time would be to have a small event, like a viewing party, at the property for guests and team members. Most guests went outdoors and to local events arranged by the city, but we could arrange something for those who choose to stay at the property, as well.”
How did you approach pricing rooms for the nights surrounding the eclipse?
Nelson: “We recognize, or we try to recognize anyway, where and when the demand is going to come from. I won’t say that we price against competition, but we do look to see what the competition is. We employed the strategy of ‘if you book early, there will be a rate that’s lower than if you book at the last moment.’ We use that basically as our strategy all year anyway when we know there’s going to be a demand. I do think that people recognize at the very end that the press coverage is so much greater than we all probably realized in the beginning, and I think there probably was a lot of last-minute demand. So, I think if we had recognized how cool it was going to be … we probably would have had prices higher a little further out.”
Lane: "Our approach to pricing included inventory control—not releasing rooms too early and creating a waitlist to better understand the demand and rates we could achieve. Furthermore, using revenue tools … allowed us to get a good idea where the comp set is. We also implemented an aggressive 90-day cancellation policy … (and) launched a strong outbound campaign to the guests on the waitlist once inventory was released to book."
Sizemore: “Honestly, it is too early to talk about pricing for 2024 (the next time that a total solar eclipse will pass over Carbondale, Illinois). Rates will always vary by season and events, but we always strive for a fair rate for our guests.”
What other one-time events might you be able to apply these same strategies to?
Lane: “While no other events of this magnitude are in the destination, we work closely with our partners at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort to help prepare for their annual Rendezvous Festival in the spring. It’s been Zac Brown the last two years, and the crowds were the largest on record in Jackson Hole.”
Nelson: “We’ve got a lot of experience with these one-time events. … You know, we’ve got the Country Music Awards that happen every year at the same time, and it’s a one-day event. We’ve got the college bowl game that’s between Christmas and New Year’s that’s a one-day event, huge parties that happen in Nashville for one day, whether that’s the Fourth of July or New Year’s Eve. So for us in Nashville, the eclipse was just another awesome one-day event.”
Sizemore: “We never have this big of an event in Carbondale. We do have other local events that involve Southern Illinois University, but if we can welcome guests during an eclipse, we can manage any other situation!”
What advice do you have for hotels planning for such an event?
Nelson: “One of the things that we look at closely is that, as a hotel, we are trying to create a whole experience for our guests. … We had a lot of local people there that came out to experience the eclipse with us at the hotel through the brunch, but they weren’t staying at the hotel. And I think it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that we do have guests staying at the hotel (who) paid a lot of money to stay with us … (and) we need to make sure the hotel is taking special care of them. Just keep focus on making sure that the guest staying in the hotel feels as though they are being treated equally and special, even more so than the person who drives up from the local neighborhood. Of the brunch guests, we had, probably half of them were hotel guests, and half of them were people from the local community.”
Lane: “If it wasn’t for the years of planning and community getting together to prepare, we may have been caught with our pants down.”
Sizemore: “It really comes down to the pre-planning and making sure you have plenty of supplies and staff to assist guests. Our goal was to make sure that our guests had a great experience, enjoyed the hotel and the Carbondale area.”
Hotel News Now staff members Robert McCune, Dana Miller and Sean McCracken contributed to this report.