Airbnb sees listings surge ahead of 21 Aug solar eclipse

San Francisco - On August 21, for the first time in nearly 100 years, the earth, sun and moon will briefly align to cast darkness on a narrow trajectory between Salem, Oregon, and Charleston, South Carolina.

For homeowners living on the route of the Great American Eclipse, the stars appear to be aligning for them to reap a small fortune renting their homes on Airbnb.

In the past month, Airbnb listings and bookings have surged as astronomy enthusiasts scramble to find accommodations along the "path of totality," the 70-mile strip projected to go dark this Monday.

Over 29 000 homes, single rooms, plots of grass and recreational vehicles along the eclipse’s trajectory are registered for rent on Airbnb. More than 50 000 people are booked to stay in rentals over the weekend, compared with about 11 000 last week.

Smaller cities in the eclipse’s path have seen the largest jump in listings. Casper, Wyoming, an industrial hub known for its oil refineries, saw Airbnb listings increase 31-fold compared with this weekend last year. Casper is considered one of the best places to watch the eclipse. Nashville saw listings increase by just 40% for the eclipse.

For some small towns on the eclipse route, Airbnb has become a welcome lodging partner. "We’ve never had an event like this happen here and we have no idea what to expect, or where to put everyone," said Theresa Anderson, the volunteer president of the Chamber of Commerce for Rigby, Idaho, a town of about 4 000.

Rigby, which has a bed and breakfast and one hotel, has encouraged its citizens to open their homes to Airbnb, said Anderson.

According to the San Francisco-based company, more than 700 people are planning to stay in a Rigby Airbnb on Sunday night. On the same day last year, Rigby had just one guest. Remaining listings for this weekend range from a $2 000-per-night five-bedroom house to a $100-a-night plot of grass to pitch a tent at a farm, no bathroom access included.

Eclipse weekend is proving to be a great marketing opportunity for Airbnb, which seeks to solidify itself as a cheaper alternative to hotel chains. Rigby’s sold-out Motel 6 is charging $330 per night, over three times its normal rate, for a queen room this weekend. The average Airbnb booked in Rigby is about $127. (It’s double the cost of the rental from last year.)

"It used to be difficult, if not impossible, for regular people to benefit financially from these kinds of events," said Nick Papas, a spokesperson for Airbnb. To promote its eclipse-path listings, Airbnb hosted a sweepstakes contest with National Geographic.

The winners receive free flight and lodging in the outskirts of Bend, Oregon, where the eclipse is expected to begin at about 9:00 on Monday.

In Hopkinsville, Kentucky, a city on the path of the eclipse that’s also home to world’s largest bowling ball manufacturer, hotel rooms cost about $425 this weekend. An Airbnb room in Hopkinsville this weekend is about $260 per night. There, the nightly rate for a patch of backyard grass ranges from $68 to $150.

Some hotels have been accused of price gauging for the event. Last month, Oregon’s Justice Department urged visitors to confirm their hotel reservations after receiving complaints that some hotels were increasing prices or cancelling reservations to rebook them at double or triple the price. Oregon officials said they had identified 12 hotels that may be unfairly charging tourists.

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