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There's been a high demand for places to stay to see the April 8 eclipse

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The total solar eclipse on April 8 has had people scrambling to find the best place to watch. Hotels have been booked for weeks. Travelers have also turned to short-term rentals like Airbnbs, and that's inspired many to rent out their homes for the first time. From member station Ideastream Public Media in Ohio, Anna Huntsman has this report.

STEPHANIE DIAMANT: Plants, lighting that's really good or really cozy, so a little bit of both.

ANNA HUNTSMAN, BYLINE: Cleveland resident Stephanie Diamant is showing me around the duplex she owns on the city's West Side. She's been decorating and hoping to lease to tenants, but she changed her mind after a dinner with friends.

DIAMANT: Someone was like, did you hear about the eclipse? And I actually hadn't at the time. This was probably, like, beginning of February. And they were like, people are renting their apartments, their houses like crazy, and there's, like, nothing left.

HUNTSMAN: Diamant decided she'd give it a try and listed both units on Airbnb, a short-term home rental site.

DIAMANT: I posted it, and within one hour of the post being live, it rented immediately on Airbnb.

HUNTSMAN: Airbnb spokesperson Haven Thorn says the company is seeing major demand, both for the day of the eclipse and the weekend preceding it.

HAVEN THORN: That April 8 weekend has just seen a skyrocketed amount of searches on the platform for stays across the path of totality.

HUNTSMAN: The path of totality, where the moon totally covers the sun, stretches across Maine to Texas. Skies will completely darken for about four minutes in that path. Thorn says Airbnb data shows Austin, Dallas, Indianapolis and Cleveland are the most popular destinations in the path of totality in the U.S. It's an event not likely to be seen in the United States for another 20 years, so demand for housing is tremendous. Thorn says it's prompted at least a thousand people to become Airbnb hosts for the first time, like Diamant.

THORN: They realize that, hey, this is a significant economic opportunity for me. I can open up my home and earn significant income in a relatively short amount of time.

BENNY ESPARRA: Come on in.

HUNTSMAN: Pittsburgh resident Benny Esparra operates an Airbnb in a quiet neighborhood in Youngstown, Ohio, near the Pennsylvania border. He says the economic potential of the eclipse is not just for individual hosts, but also businesses in communities where people are staying. That's a boon for Ohio and Pennsylvania because spring, with its still-cool temperatures, isn't exactly tourist season. But now those states are destinations for people who are traveling specifically to see the eclipse.

ESPARRA: It's going to be amazing to have an influx of guests coming in, contributing to local restaurants, contributing to these middle-class folks that share their homes for Airbnb. And all of that funding just goes right back into the local economies in quarters where we typically don't have that type of influx, so that's humongous.

HUNTSMAN: Officials from local visitors' bureaus don't have estimates of the economic impact of the eclipse but say they're expecting up to 200,000 visitors, depending on the weather. Many parks and restaurants in northeast Ohio are planning events, and emergency management officials are warning of heavy traffic congestion across the region. In the meantime, Esparra is hoping to earn some extra stars on the Airbnb rating system with his preparations for the eclipse travelers.

ESPARRA: Providing telescopes and sunglasses with ISO-authorized shades for the eclipse, instructions on how to use them - we have a little package. And I think we're making sure that we have some really solid decorations, some glow-in-the-dark stars.

HUNTSMAN: And some binoculars, in case some people want to do some stargazing the night before the sky goes dark.

For NPR News, I'm Anna Huntsman in Cleveland.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Anna Huntsman is a senior broadcast journalism student at Kent State with experience reporting for radio, television and digital platforms. She reports for the Ohio News Connection, Ohio's branch of the Public News Service, and helps run the weekend assignment desk at WKYC. Anna served as the General Manager of TV2, Kent State's student-led television station, during the 2017-18 school year. A Canton native, she is excited to join the WKSU team and tell stories in the Northeast Ohio community.
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