Area hotel rooms scarce, expensive ahead of Monday’s eclipse

From an article originally written by Mickey Shuey, Indiana Business Journal April 5, 2024

Hotel rooms will be hard to come by across central Indiana over the weekend, ahead of the total solar eclipse Monday that is expected to bring more than 100,000 people to Indianapolis and hundreds of thousands more to the rest of the state.

The astronomical event—the only that will pass through Indianapolis for 129 years—has led to a virtual sellout of the downtown Indianapolis hotel supply for Sunday night, with most other rooms throughout Marion, Hamilton and Johnson counties fully booked.

Chris Gahl, executive vice president of tourism group Visit Indy, said both Sunday and Monday are shaping up to be “massive” for the city’s hospitality industry, with each commanding two to three times their price for a night’s stay compared to the same time last year.

“Sunday and Monday nights are the hardest nights of the week to fill for any hotel, anywhere in the U.S., so to have the eclipse happening on a Monday is perfectly placed from a tourism perspective,” he said.

Most travelers are expected to arrive Sunday, with a majority expected to retain their rooms for Monday night before traveling home on Tuesday.

The projected 100,000 visitors—a large portion of whom are expected to be attending the NASA-sponsored event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway—is the equivalent of Indianapolis hosting two citywide conventions such as Gen Con and FDIC International—which draw crowds of 70,000 and 35,000, respectively—at the same time.

There is only a small smattering of rooms that are still available for downtown from April 7 to April 9, based on IBJ research, with most commanding high prices. At the Bottleworks Hotel, a luxury property, a two-night stay is about $1,200, with just a few rooms left. The La Quinta Inn and Suites on Washington Street is going for $760 for such a stay. And two nights at the Embassy Suites exceeds $1,500.

The story is similar elsewhere, as most hotels in Speedway have rates exceeding $500 per night for a two-night stay on any remaining rooms. The Comfort Inn Indianapolis South 1-65, near Beech Grove, has rates of $400 per night. Rooms at most other hotels on the south side and in Johnson County are unavailable.

Hamilton County leaders said this week that demand for hotels and short-term rentals like Airbnb and Vrbo is outpacing 2023 figures. Demand for hotel rooms, specifically, is up 45% this month compared to last year. Short term rentals for the month are also up by 13%.

Last month, Airbnb said Indianapolis is its top-booked market for the eclipse, with all listings essentially sold out. The company did not share specific data pertaining to rates or the total number of bookings.

Phil Ray is general manager of the JW Marriott, which fronts White River State Park, another organized viewing site for the eclipse. He said the only day for which rooms are still available is Saturday, which is typically the hotel’s best night.

“It’s a bit ironic,” he said, “but right now we’re looking at 91% occupancy for Saturday.”

It’s the only day over a five-day period that the hotel won’t be at full occupancy, due to the Morgan Wallen concerts at Lucas Oil Stadium on Thursday and Friday and Monday’s celestial event.

He said room rates for Sunday are about $300, while Monday is around $400—both are much higher than what’s typically found for each night at the hotel. He said the hotel has a seven-day cancellation policy for the event.

Vincent Dora, president of Fishers-based Dora Hospitality, said essentially all of the company’s local hotels are sold out for the eclipse. The company has nearly a dozen hotels in central Indiana between Indianapolis, Fishers, Carmel and Plainfield.

He said uptake for his properties was slow, with demand for Sunday only slightly higher than average. But in the past two weeks, interest has boomed, leading to a scarcity of rooms across the board.

“We were really nervous that people weren’t going to be coming in like everyone was predicting, but now that’s changed,” he said. “It is now more comparable to when we have a major event, because we’re sold out everywhere and we don’t see, citywide, a sellout very often, even for Indy 500.

“But now all we’re doing is trying to watch the weather forecasts like a hawk and praying for a cloudless day,” Dora said.

As of Thursday, the National Weather Service indicated central Indiana is among the least likely of places expected to have an eclipse viewing obstructed by cloud cover.