From the Inside… with Gary Schluter

Gary Schluter, who serves as chairman of IITA, is general manager of Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours. Schluter started the company 29 years ago to assist international guests with their visits to the USA and the American West. Before that, Schluter worked for the Wyoming Travel Commission, where he received national honors for promoting travel as a regional concept by working with neighboring states and city CVBs in developing and promoting itineraries.

For the first time in 26 years, a total solar eclipse will occur in our great country. What should tour operators know about the solar eclipse set for August 2017?
The solar eclipse has generated a lot of interest already and has strong potential as its own booking or to package with other points of interest in states along the path. The eclipse — which will start Aug. 21 in Oregon, then travel through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kentucky, Tennessee and South Carolina – has a path about 100 miles wide. We’ve found that many hotels in cities along the path, such as Jackson, Casper and Idaho Falls, were sold out in April 2015.

What are you suggesting as alternative arrangements to potential clients?
We’re looking at other areas within an hour or so of the path, which will give travelers convenient driving access with plenty of time to view the eclipse. The added bonus is that hotels a short distance away don’t have the $1,000 per night, nonrefundable rates and a three-night minimum that many hotels within the path are requiring.

How are you promoting and packaging the experience?
If you have a client interested in the eclipse, urge them to book soon. Most people are booking at least Aug. 20 and Aug. 21, 2017 just for the eclipse. Depending on the interest of your group, you also could incorporate a larger city, such as Portland or Seattle, into the trip; or focus on one of the national parks, such as Yellowstone or Grand Teton, or include a visit to the Black Hills or Mount Rushmore.

For some groups, the eclipse is their main purpose, so we are packaging it around the eclipse but creating additional features. For example, we are working with Wind River Hotel and Casino in Wyoming and another tribe in South Dakota not only for lodging but to arrange with tribal leaders to conduct a seminar on Native American views toward the eclipse.