The eclipse was SC’s largest tourism event ever. Here’s how many people visited

Solar eclipse totality time lapse at SC Statehouse

A time lapse video showing the totality part of the 2017 solar eclipse in Columbia South Carolina.
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A time lapse video showing the totality part of the 2017 solar eclipse in Columbia South Carolina.

Last month’s eclipse is officially the largest single tourist event in South Carolina history

More than 1.6 million people traveled to or within South Carolina to view the total solar eclipse last month, according to research released Wednesday by the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

And that doesn’t include international visitors.

The study, conducted by private contractors for the agency, compared hotel occupancy rates, hotel inventory and surveys of people in states that have a high concentration of frequent visitors to the Palmetto State to come up with the figure. It also extrapolated that those visitors pumped $269 million into the state’s economy.

“The impact of the eclipse was huge,” PRT spokeswoman Dawn Dawson-House said.

More than half of eclipse travelers were South Carolinians who left their hometowns to see the eclipse in another location in the state, the research showed. About 800,000 visitors were from out of state, primarily from North Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

Most people who traveled to or within South Carolina to view the eclipse stayed overnight, and most shopped, dined out, enjoyed the beach or the mountains or visited attractions during the weekend.

“Typically in the third weekend in August, tourism is winding down,” Dawson-House said, but hotel occupancy statewide was up 50 percent, state park attendance was up 400 percent, and in the path of totality, camping sites and cabins were sold out.

The survey also showed:

▪  Most visitors viewed the eclipse in the Greenville, Columbia or Charleston metro areas.

▪  About 48 percent of out-of-state visitors and one-third of in-state travelers indicated they went to an optimal viewing site like a park, a mountain site or coast.

▪  About 23 percent of out-of-state visitors and 25 percent of in-state travelers reported participating in an organized solar eclipse event.

▪  Nearly all of the respondents rated their experience as “excellent” or “good,” describing their time in South Carolina viewing the eclipse as “unique,” “amazing” or “once in a lifetime.” The few “fair” or “poor” ratings were almost all because of poor weather.

But the attendance figures are conservative. They do not include international visitors or those from states outside the survey area, of which there were many, Dawson-House said.

For instance, exhibits at the State Museum and programs hosted by the University of South Carolina reportedly drew large numbers of international visitors. “We felt like a lot of international people came ... but it’s hard to measure their impact beyond their hotel stay,” Dawson-House said

Merritt McNeely, marketing director at the state museum and chairwoman and founder of Total Eclipse Weekend Columbia SC, said attendance during the weekend was staggering.

Last August, the museum logged $137,000 in ticket and merchandise sales, she said. In just the four days of the eclipse weekend, the museum raked in $437,000 in sales.

“So the (statewide) figure of $269 million in economic impact is exciting, but not surprising,” McNeely said.

McNeely said that a year ago, her organization urged local attractions and businesses to plan events for the entire weekend to entice visitors to extend their stays.

“From the very beginning, we knew the weather was not in our control,” she said. “So the way to not be completely in the control of the weather was to declare it a weekend.”

The next total eclipse in South Carolina will be in 2078. Museum officials plan to bury a time capsule with mementos and tips to be opened in 2077, McNeely said.

As for her plans, McNeely said, “I’ll be 98. So they’ll probably roll me out onstage with my cane and take my picture in my eclipse 2017 T-shirt.”