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Eclipse tourism could bring an estimated $1.4 billion to Texas

There are free eclipse viewing events happening around the Austin area, including at the library in Buda.
Patricia Lim
KUT News
There are free eclipse viewing events happening around the Austin area, including at the library in Buda.

The Central Texas region is bracing for an influx of people coming to watch the once-in-a-lifetime total solar eclipse next week. With all these tourists come their wallets, and analysts estimate the economic impact could bring about $1.4 billion to Texas.

Central Texas cities, including Austin, will be some of the best places to watch in the country. While larger cities are excited about the economic benefits, smaller ones may not be able to handle the crowds.

Hays County

Cities in Hays County expect anywhere from 200,000 to 2 million people will travel through the area to watch the eclipse. With such a large range, city and county officials have left much of the planning to guesswork.

The City of Dripping Springs and Wimberley are in the path of totality — where the sun will completely cover the moon, resulting in a "ring of fire" in the sky. Officials expect tourists will spend money on accommodations, meals, gas and shopping.

"There's gonna be a lot of visitors, there's a potential to make a lot of money," said Lisa Sullivan, communications director for Dripping Springs. "If they want to stay open, they just need to be prepared that some of their people may have challenges getting here."

Dripping Springs recently issued a disaster declaration ahead of the event.

Hays County officials have warned residents and business owners for months about the struggles they may face on eclipse day, such as possible loss of cellphone and internet service and gridlock traffic.

This has prompted cities to recommend businesses close down on eclipse day if they can afford to.

Antonio Arredondo owns Gentlemen's Grooming Barbershop, a barber shop in Kyle. He said he runs a tight ship, and any delays would throw off the whole day's schedule.

"We originally were going to stay open, but with all the predictions and stuff that might be going on, we decided to be closed that day," Arredondo said.

Although Kyle isn't in the path of totality, Julie Synder, president of the Kyle Chamber of Commerce, said people are booking hotels and Airbnbs along I-35 and driving into the Hill Country on the day of the eclipse. Snyder said hotels in the city have been almost entirely booked since January.

"La Quinta, Hampton Inn, Comfort Suites ... people booked almost a year out to make sure they had hotels," she said.

Travis County

While visitors to Austin will bring much-welcomed revenue to Austin area businesses and hotels, the influx of people could also put a strain on the city's infrastructure.

The event is expected to bring enough people that it could double Travis County’s population for the day. The rush will mean roads will be congested and hotels are expected to be nearly full.

Travis County issued a disaster declaration last month in anticipation of the event.

Eric Carter, chief emergency management coordinator for Travis County, said it is a way to better control traffic and crowds.

“The disaster declaration is just helping Travis County access the tools we need to be better prepared as best we can for the unexpected surge of folks that may come to our area for the eclipse," Carter said.

City residents should expect to see people start coming into town several days before the eclipse, said Wesley Lucas of the city's tourist bureau Visit Austin.

“We think a lot of people who are coming into town for the eclipse are going to come on Friday or Saturday, stay a couple of days, enjoy Austin, experience the eclipse on Monday, and then go home either Monday afternoon or Tuesday," she said.

Lucas said downtown hotels are already more than 77% booked for the upcoming weekend, with hotels in other parts of the city at nearly 70% occupancy. That is significantly higher compared to the same time last year, she said.

Those numbers could increase as the eclipse date draws closer, and people make last-minute decisions to travel for the event, she said.

Even with additional reservations, hotel stays for the eclipse are unlikely to beat the levels seen during the 2022 Formula One race weekend. That year almost every room in Austin was booked. However, the numbers are pretty close to the rates the city regularly sees during South by Southwest and the Austin City Limits Music Festival.

Even if this isn't the biggest event to hit Austin, Lucas said there is still plenty of money to be made.

“Tourism is a huge part of Austin's community," she said. "If you think about people who come in for all these events, they are not only staying in hotels, they are going out to eat in local restaurants, they are going shopping in local boutiques, and they are hitting up our live music venues.”

Several watch parties will be available across the city, including at Austin Public Library locations, the University of Texas and Zilker Park.

Copyright 2024 KUT News. To see more, visit KUT News.

Maya Fawaz
Luz Moreno-Lozano