Demand for southern Ontario hotels, rentals gets tight for visitors ahead of rare solar eclipse

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Next month’s solar eclipse appears to have piqued interest in hotels and home rentals across Ontario cities as stories around dwindling availability and rising prices are circulating weeks before the celestial event.

Jack Kratoville, a would-be traveller from New York City seeking to join the frenzy in Niagara Falls, says he’s breathing a sigh of relief after receiving confirmation he wasn’t bumped from the hotel suite he booked months ago.

Kratoville says he initially thought the cancellation call he got Tuesday for his third-party booking at the Ramada Plaza near the Falls was a joke when told a client had opted to extend a stay squeezing him out of his accommodation.

“I said, ‘Well, you’re going to have to send me an email confirming?’ And they did,” Kratoville recalls. “No other explanation and no alternative.”

An agent with Expedia, where he placed the original booking, characterized the change as irregular and told Kratoville they would reach out to the hotel to confirm before issuing any refund. “Then they called back and confirmed a couple of times, ‘Yep, you’re cancelled.'”

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Kratoville’s fortunes would change just a couple of days later when he would get an apologetic reprieve via email from the Ramada on Thursday, confirming they would have a room for him.

“All in all, it’s certainly a far better outcome than that first call from the hotel,” Kratoville said.

“To me, it seems like Niagara Falls, from the city to the tourism agency to the hotel chain management, really don’t want a black eye from hosting the largest event in our lifetime.”

The experience underscores the value that’s been put on the unique event that will unfold across Niagara Falls on the afternoon of April 8.

In January, National Geographic tagged the spot as the “most picturesque” place to view the eclipse with ideal vantage points and the “iconic waterfalls thundering in the background.”

Quite a few hotels in the city have sold out as of mid-March, and of available rooms now go for as much as $1,000 a night.

As of Thursday, the Ramada’s website still had a king-bed studio suite for two listed between $476 to $529 on the day of the eclipse, while a pair of queen beds in a non-smoking room going for $449 to $499.

The Monday after the eclipse, the rate for the same suites dropped to between $89 and $99 per night and between $62 and $69, respectively.

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One of the more premium hotels, the Hilton at Fallsview Hotel & Suites had a compact king bedroom with shower for a single guest going for $892, while a deluxe two-bed suite for two checked in at $1099 for an evening between April 7 and 8.

A week after the eclipse, the rooms prices drop to around $168 and $271 respectively, according to their website.

Niagara Falls mayor, Jim Diodati, says the “dynamic pricing” shouldn’t be a surprise to travellers since it’s what just happens when you go anywhere during high season.

“If you go to a Super Bowl game or to the Rogers Centre during a big game or spring break for Disney, you’re going to pay more for everything,” Diodati insisted. “It’s just kind of how it works … I’m not saying it’s good or I think it’s the right thing to do. It’s what happens with supply and demand.”

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Interest in travelling to Canadian cities and towns along the path of the total solar eclipse has skyrocketed in recent weeks.

The eclipse has been driving tourism in cities and towns across Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador who have ideal sight-lines for the early April event.

Recent data from Airbnb showed that searches for listings in places on the “totality path” soared between April 5-8, compared with the same period last year.

“When we crunched the numbers, we found that there was a 300 per cent surge in search for cities along the path of totality on April 8,” said Matt McNama, an Airbnb spokesperson in Canada. “There’s a huge amount of interest and I think we’ll see more and more people booking on Airbnb over the next month.”

The online marketplace says its listings outnumbered hotel stock as of March 5 by more than 18 times along the path of totality.

Hamilton is also expected to get a pretty good look with a brief period where the moon will completely block out the sun.

As of Friday, the city’s manager for Tourism and Events Ryan McHugh said there are still some hotel rooms available for booking but said “they’ll go very fast at this point.”

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McHugh admits there’s “no real playbook” for the occurrence and says partners are preparing for tens of thousands to descend on the city but he couldn’t guess a specific number.

“I don’t want to throw out a number, but, where we’re ready for a significant amount of visitors,” he said. “Our hope is that everybody comes in, safely enjoys the eclipse, and gets out in an orderly fashion without disrupting traffic or other city services.”

'We don't know exactly what to expect,' says Niagara Falls mayor

Niagara Falls top politician admits he doesn’t have specifics either on how many people will arrive in the days leading up to the April 8 eclipse, but experts have told him it could top one million.

Mayor Diodati says he got that ballpark number from a “major award-winning documentary company” coming in for the event who say they’ve seen populations grow up to eight to nine times for a similar rare experience.

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He estimates the city’s distance from “half the population of North America” makes it an attractive location to view the celestial event.

“I can tell you we don’t know exactly what to expect. We just know it’s going to be massive and we’re preparing for anything,” said Diodati.

The mayor tempered that prediction with what the weather will be like on April 8, submitting it could be lower depending on the forecast.

He says city staff are working on the issue from two fronts, one being safety to make sure police, ambulance and fire are on scene in key locations around the falls. The other is entertainment and the addition of extracurriculars to encourage people to leave at different times and create “gradual disbursement.”

Extra onsite washrooms and food will also be a part of the preparations, but he’s certain there will be long lines for those amenities.

Diodati says he won’t be driving to the event but is riding his bicycle to the falls along with a backpack of snacks, water and his eclipse glasses.

He suggests people thinking of doing the same be as “self-sufficient” as possible and consider taking public transit, like GO Trains. However, people who do have to rely on a vehicle should make sure gas tanks are filled in case of traffic on the highway.

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“Bring backup plans, like in your backpack bring a battery charger for your cell phone just in case the phone goes dead,” Diodati recommended.

Meanwhile, Hamilton has designated four large parks, some conservation areas and Tim Hortons Field as ideal viewing sites.

McMaster University and partners have already been giving out some of the half a million solar eclipse safe-viewing glasses they acquired ahead of the event through public libraries.

Volunteers will also be at each of the designated locations the day of the eclipse handing out the free glasses.

Tourism and Events McHugh is alerting visitors that Hamilton is not preparing for a “conventional party” and that there won’t be extra food vendors or portable washrooms being requisitioned by the city.

The eclipse for most of Ontario is expected to happen for about four minutes between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on April 8, according to Dr. Elaina Hyde, director at the Allan I. Carswell Observatory at York University.

Hyde says the occurrence will have a “very narrow path” between 100 and 115 kilometres wide and only a very small region in the province will get the full effect of something that won’t happen again for over 100 years.

“So the shadow-casting only occurs for a short amount of time and sort of traces out this little path going from Mexico up through the U.S. and into Ontario.”

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After the April event, the next solar eclipse visible from Canadian soil will be in 2039, when the path of totality cuts through the very northern part of Yukon.

– With files from Saba Aziz

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