For the first time in 99 years a total solar eclipse will cross the United States, and Columbia will be the event’s epicenter.
With national attention, the Midlands has become one of the top places to see the natural wonder, causing experts to believe and extra 1 million people will be venturing to the Palmetto State. In Columbia alone, record numbers of visitors are expected, prompting local authorities to plan for traffic congestion and other safety concerns.
According to researchers, South Carolina will be a significant destination for Monday’s eclipse event because it will be the nearest spot within the path of totality for at least 100 million Americans in the Atlantic Seaboard and Florida.
City Councilman Howard Duvall likened the influx of people to a Carolina-Clemson football game, times 10. That is more than the number of people who attended every University of South Carolina football, basketball and baseball home game last season.
South Carolina Department of Public Safety said they will have extra personnel assigned to the interstate highways in areas of high population density.
Columbia is gearing up for the event by hosting several eclipse-related activities beginning this weekend. With thousands of people expected to visit, hotels have been booked for months.
“There will certainly be economic impact,” said Tom Regan Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in USC’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sports Management. “The key is to make sure the people coming enjoy themselves.”
Based on projections, Regan said Columbia could be generating up to $56 million in revenue.
“It’s an opportunity to showcase the metro,” Regan said.
There are over 120 hotels in the Columbia area, with 11,500 rooms and each one is booked for the event. The AirBNB and VRBO vacation rental market both still have inventory, AirBNB has reported that Sunday will be their biggest night ever in South Carolina.
Duane Parrish, director of S.C. Parks, Recreation and Tourism, said the only thing that has generated more exposure to the state has been athletics.
“The third week of August is normally a slower time of the year, with kids going back to school, but we expect record high numbers at events across the state. Hotels in Greenville, Columbia and Charleston are 100% booked.”
Parrish said the goal for the state is to expose visitors to the attractions South Carolina has to offer in hopes they will find their way back. “I wish we could do this every year,” Parrish said.
With the number of people expected, Columbia Metropolitan Airport has seen an increase in the number of reservations for eclipse weekend.
“Many of our flights are fully booked, and there are only a few tickets left available for flights into Columbia,” said Lynne Douglas, CMA customer service and air service develop manager. “The number of flights is obviously a normal day, it’s a matter of seeing fuller flights and higher travel numbers.”
Douglas compared it to a holiday weekend, and said it was nothing the team wasn’t used to.
“We’re just thrilled for the opportunity to be the front door to the community,” Douglas said.
The Columbia Fireflies are one of the many organizations hosting a watch the day of the event. Abby Naas, vice-president of marketing and public relations for the team, said it was a unique opportunity.
“No one has been able to do this before, so we knew we had to have a promotion,” Naas said. “We checked the calendar to make sure we had a game, and made sure to start it at 1 p.m.”
Totality of the eclipse will occur at 2:41 p.m. Monday. Observers will see approximately 2 minutes and 30 seconds of totality.