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IDAHO FALLS — You may have heard that all hotels in east Idaho are already full for the eclipse Aug. 21.
That rumor is wrong.
If you’ve been online looking for a hotel room, it may appear everything is full — but reality is a little different. Some hotels are full, but many others still have rooms available if you call and ask.
“We are starting to fill up. I do not believe that our hotel is completely full,” said John Weldon, spokesman at InnTrusted Hotels, who also manages the Holiday Inn Express in Idaho Falls.
EastIdahoNews.com contacted 10 hotels last week to see which had rooms available between the dates of Aug. 19 and 22. Of those hotels, four had rooms that are available, three were reaching capacity, and three had no available rooms left.
But if you search online on third-party sites like Expedia.com, or Hotels.com, most of the hotels in the Idaho Falls area are listed as being as unavailable during the time of the solar eclipse.
Weldon said that’s because many hotels are blocking sites that offer discounted rates, not because rooms are unavailable, but because they can make more money.
“That’s going to be a high-demand time, or we are assuming that it’s going to be a high-demand time for all of our hotels in the area,” Weldon said. “It’s going to be a high enough occupancy time for us we don’t want to sell rooms at a discount.”
And they aren’t just avoiding discounted rates. Many hotels are raising rates for the eclipse — sometimes doubling or tripling their normal value.
Local hotel owners say the higher the demand for hotel rooms, the more the rates increase. Some hotels are gradually making rooms more available as the eclipse event nears. The Holiday Inn Express and other hotels are strategizing on how to best maximize occupancy and revenues.
“We have not necessarily made our entire hotel inventory available to sell yet. We are releasing rooms as time gets closer to the eclipse period. The demand will tell what your rate is going to be,” Weldon said.
Staff from one local hotel, who asked not be to identified, say they are selling rooms for between $400 and $1,200 per night during the eclipse. Management says all of the rooms had been booked, but recently some opened up. Using a discount code, guests were able to book rooms for more than $900 per night. The normal price is between $90 and $200 per night, depending on the season.
Along with restricting bookings, hotels will also put on length-of-stay restrictions. Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott general manager Jeff Johnson calls them “must-stay” restrictions.
“We try to maximize revenue by having must-stays. When you have a must-stay (and people) go in and try to book (Aug. 21) it’ll come up and say no rooms available, because we have it set where they need to stay three nights.” Johnson said.
Johnson said his hotel occupancy is expected to be at capacity during the week of the eclipse. Right now space is limited for dates around Aug. 19 through 22.
“When a special event is happening in town, or even in the summer months when we’re very busy, we have rooms that we set aside that are not part of your inventory, you might say,” Johnson said.
Hotels are planning on hosting many astronomy groups, NASA representatives, and tourists from out of state and the country.
People are flocking to eastern Idaho for the once-in-a-lifetime event. 1979 was the last time a full solar eclipse took place in Idaho.
City of Idaho Falls spokesperson Kerry Hammon said the city is keeping tabs on local lodging and gauging how many people will be attending the event from out of town.
Hammon said NASA has designated Idaho Falls as an official viewing area of the eclipse.
“We’re looking at having NASA representatives here as well as national media outlets covering the eclipse from Idaho Falls,” Hammon said.
The projections of the numbers of those attending are ranging in the hundred thousands.
“The most challenging part is planning for the unknown the unexpected amount of numbers. We’ve heard anywhere from 200,000 to 500,000 people in this region during the eclipse,” Hammon said.
Hammon said that four city parks have been set aside for the eclipse viewing: the Old Butte Soccer Complex, Freeman Park, Tautphaus Park, and Community Park.
She also said there will be city wide camping areas for those who want to camp overnight: South Tourist Park, Noise Park and Sandy Downs Arena.