Hotel operators say they booked solid across most of the corridor from Clemson south through Aiken, Greenwood, Columbia, Orangeburg and Charleston in anticipation of Monday’s solar eclipse. But new weather forecasts could ease some of the travel.
In the Midlands, which billed itself as having the longest time in totality darkness of any city on the East Coast (even if it was only by 15-20 seconds more than the rest of South Carolina), most of the chain hotels say they were full with reservations as far back as two months ago. A few hotels say they have a room or two left, but the online hotel search website Booking.com lists prices around $600 for Sunday night.
“It’s just so exciting. We’ve got all these folks coming in from, not just all across the country, but from all around the world,” South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association spokeswoman Katie Montgomery said. “It gives us the opportunity to show off our classic Southern charm.”
Earlier this week, the state Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism reported 99 percent occupancy in Columbia-area hotel rooms for Sunday and Monday nights. For perspective, University of South Carolina home football games averaged 81 percent occupancy in the Midlands last year, while the Master’s golf tournament weekend was around 87 percent of the region’s more than 11,600 rooms, according to Experience Columbia SC executive director Jason Outman.
Predictions about tourism can be difficult, given the somewhat unprecedented nature of a solar eclipse passing over three major South Carolina cities, but tourism officials estimate anywhere from 700,000 to more than 2 million visitors to South Carolina for the event.
But the weather could be throwing a wrench into things. Recent forecasts entering Friday predicted a 50 percent cloud cover on Monday afternoon. Wingate Columbia/Lexington hotel sales manager Megan Brasington said a few rooms have opened up since Monday as a few would-be travelers canceled their plans.
“We’ve been really sold out for pretty much the past two months for those dates,” she said. “But I think the weather report changed… so we had a couple open back up.”
Restaurants are still preparing for the customer crunch as thousands more visitors seek food. Charleston’s legendary Husk restaurant General Manager Jenn Bresnan said staff have rearranged schedules to stay open longer and even changed delivery arrivals so they can feed everyone.
“That is a lot of mouths to feed,” she joked. “And I certainly hope there are a lot of restaurants ready to do the same.”
Brasington said Wingate is taking extra steps to accommodate guests this weekend — providing eclipse glasses and guides for activities around the Midlands. “We’re expecting a lot of people traveling in,” she said. “I’m guessing the traffic into Columbia on Sunday is going to be heavy and the traffic heading out on Tuesday and Monday night is going to be heavy, as well.
Jared Rogers Martin contributed to this report