So, did Monday meet local officials’ expectations? Based on an unscientific sampling of eclipse boomtowns, it appears that the estimates most towns came up with were a bit too optimistic. But officials said they don’t regret devoting the resources to the event that they did, and would happily do it again for another eclipse in the future if the heavens were to comply.
Perryville, Missouri, a city of about 8,500, was predicting it’d get 20,000 visitors, which had gotten bumped up from the 10,000 originally projected a year ago. “We didn't get the influx, community-wise, that we thought we were going to get,” Trish Erzfeld, the tourism director of Perry County Heritage Tourism, told me. She’d even heard numbers as high as 40,000. In the end, she guesses without having seen hard data, the number was above 10,000 but definitely below 20,000.
Tourism representatives and city-government employees I spoke to from other cities also saw substantial but not overwhelming crowds. Clarksville, Tennessee, was prepared for 50,000 people—a number that came from the sheriff’s department—but likely had closer to 20,000, per an estimate from the city’s Economic Development Council. Carbondale, Illinois, guessed it’d see about 100,000 visitors, but the actual number, according to the city manager, was probably closer to 50,000. And the St. Joseph Convention and Visitors Bureau, which on the high end was estimating 500,000, preliminarily thinks the number was close to 100,000.
Other towns think they got closer to the mark. Nashville, with its research team, was expecting to host 90,000, which appears to have been pretty accurate. Hopkinsville, Kentucky, expected 100,000 and saw roughly that many. The 8,000 who came to Ravenna, Nebraska, fell in its predicted range of 5,000 to 15,000. Still, none of the local representatives I talked to said that attendance exceeded what they originally estimated.
For the majority of cities in the path of totality, these influxes qualified as highly unusual. Most of the local representatives I talked to couldn’t remember the last time they’d seen so many visitors. While Nashville routinely draws such crowds on New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July, most cities on the path don’t. The last time Clarksville, Tennessee, put up close to as many visitors was in the wake of 9/11, when people flocked to visit family members stationed at nearby Fort Campbell before they were deployed. And Casper, Wyoming, has never had crowds on the scale of what it had Monday; even the thousands who come to town to see Elton John or the College National Finals Rodeo don’t compare.
And when so many people stop by, they spend money. Nashville projected it’d see $28 million in spending from visitors. While the actual numbers aren’t available yet, Butch Spyridon, the CEO of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation, told me that there were big lines at the city’s top attractions, including the Country Music Hall of Fame, the zoo, and the Johnny Cash Museum. “Most of the rooftop bars did really well,” he added. In cities without, say, a Country Music Hall of Fame, businesses still saw increased foot traffic. Brooke Jung, who headed eclipse-related marketing for Hopkinsville, Kentucky, went into the event guessing that its 100,000 visitors would bring $30 million to the city, and stands by that number now.