Tag: eclipse travel

13 Mar 2017

Changing plans – lessons from Wile E. Coyote

intro

I’ve been feeling a lot like Wile E. Coyote lately. Clever and creative in his planning to achieve his one goal – to get the bird – his plans would backfire spectacularly in the execution. I’d like to think my plans are a little sounder than Wile E’s plans. Unlike him, however, I’m facing one key obstacle that is stopping me from achieving my goal. My immigration visa is needed before I can get to the US, and it seems just out of my reach.

The need to immigrate

Australians and British citizens are able to visit the US for three months easily with a visa waiver. However, to work in the US you require a visa, and usually an employer willing to sponsor you. As ‘Eclipse Planning Consultant’ is not really a job that has an employer, I went down the route of immigration as an “Alien of Extraordinary Ability”.   That is, I had to be a highly educated professional (three degrees – check!); an internationally recognized expert (author, researcher, and pretty much one of the only eclipse consultants around, who wrote the only guidance document on how to plan – check!); and to be engaging in activities that are of national interest (total solar eclipse for the first time in the US in almost 40 years, visible from 14 states with a partial across the whole continent – check!).

card genius

After submitting a two-volume opus of my life’s work as evidence, twice, I was judged to have met these criteria back in November. And what a happy day that was!

I was informed that there was a process that would take an additional two months or so. There remained additional steps in the meantime that I undertook as quickly as possible – police checks from two countries, listings of every single place I lived since the age of 18 years, and disclosures of all sorts of other personal information that are then used to judge you in ways you can’t really understand. More documents, submissions and explanations, along with payments at every step along the way.  I am THIS close.

Things you can control… 

In January I went ahead with an Expressions of Interest for my path of totality planning tour, which helped to determine what communities on the ground were looking for. From this, I identified:

  • 31 communities expressed strong interest in being part of my tour
  • 90 days of activities were requested
  • 10 states were represented across the path of totality

I then started to make more detailed plans. However, as time was marching on my estimated leaving date was fast approaching – still with no visa interview date.

… versus things you cannot control 

Then came some sudden changes to US immigration rules. Although my visa application is not directly affected, the indirect effect is that there are more demands on the work involved at the National Visa Centre, where my application still awaits, sitting on a desk somewhere and waiting for a final confirmation before it can be sent to London for the last remaining interviews.

In early February I made the decision to delay the start of the tour for a further month to allow for more time.  This took a bit of revision, and compromised some of my activities, but I knew it would still be possible.  

Unfortunately, further delays were announced last week now make my tour plans unviable. I have already requested permission to expedite my visa processing on grounds of national interest, and this has initially been unsuccessful.   I am trying repeatedly, and will continue to do so, until I have my visa in my hand.

What this means in practice

After two years of planning, I have had to let my path of totality planning tour go.  Anyone who knows me personally knows how long I have been talking and planning this, and how difficult this decision has been.  Much like Wile E. Coyote does, I have gone back to the drawing board to come up with a new creative way of meeting needs on the ground in a much-reduced time frame.

I am frustrated that I have had to turn down requests to participate in community events, eclipse planning conferences, astronomy events, documentaries and other media. I have had to instead direct my energies towards overcoming the many visa hurdles by collating and documenting detailed evidence, completing forms, chasing up requests. In my years of being involved in eclipse planning, I have never faced barriers quite like this.

Despite this, I have been supporting many communities from afar as best I can, and I am still planning to be available for in-community support along the path of totality.

Although it is likely that I will arrive in May, currently I am not able to agree any events or activities for that month.   I am, however, now confirming activities for June and beyond.  The biggest changes:

  • I will no longer be doing a LINEAR tour of the path of totality
  • I will no longer be visiting all states within the path
  • I will no longer be based in a fifth wheel camper, and instead will use hotels as my base

There are a few benefits from my new revised plan. I can be more flexible with my schedule, as I do not have to travel in a linear fashion. I also have been able to review my fee structure too.  So if you are interested in bringing me to your community, or to have me as part of your event or conference or as a speaker, then get in touch.

When I eventually do make it to the US, I will do all I can to share my experiences, knowledge, research and expertise. My window to do this will be much smaller than I ever intended, however I am keen to reach as many people as possible.

I have seen 10 total solar eclipses all around the world, in my 18 year chasing career. Every one is special and unique, but there is nothing like experiencing totality within your home community. This happened for me in 2012, and is the reason why I am so passionate about helping communities prepare. I’m not giving up.

catches at end

How can you help?

Many have already got in touch with offers of support, and some of you have already put something in writing to help expedite my case. If you are in a position where you feel I have already benefited you, or am about to benefit you, then please do consider putting something in an email to me that highlights this that I can send on. It can be short, like a testimonial, or longer – whatever you wish to write.  These comments will be passed on in my requests to expedite my visa, and every little bit helps.

In the end, Wile E. Coyote did indeed catch the road runner.  He is a lesson in perseverance and creativity.  And I know my visa will come through too – it just can’t come soon enough.

05 Jan 2017

The Path of Totality Tour – Expressions of Interest

press-release

 

 

It’s official.  I am now taking ‘Expressions of Interest‘ from communities that would like to be included in my Being in the Shadow Path of Totality Tour.

The tour is expected to commence in April in South Carolina, and end in July in Oregon – final dates will be confirmed at the end of January.  At the moment, I am still awaiting the final stages of my US visa process, and therefore I cannot confirm any dates.  However, I can now start planning. Woohoo!!

We will be traveling in a fifth wheel camper, and staying at RV sites within each community in order to keep costs to a minimum whilst ensuring flexibility and a mobile workspace.  From coast to coast, across the US, helping to prepare for the eclipse.

I will be ensuring the tour is high profile, and will engage in extensive media throughout, ensuring that all of the communities involved in the tour will greatly benefit from the extensive media exposure.  The results of this can be considerable.  For example, the PR value of the media from the 62 international media outlets that were reporting from the Faroe Islands in 2015, where I was the Eclipse Planning Consultant, was equivalent to US$22 million.  Media interest across the US and the world is going to be considerably greater for the 2017 total eclipse.  That’s big buckaroos.

I will, of course, be unable to visit each of the 1,000+ communities that are along the path of totality. Instead I will have to prioritise those communities that are keen to host me – that is, those that complete this form to let me know what their needs and wishes are.

I am recommending a stay of five days in each community to ensure that I can make a significant difference for each of the communities I visit.

Once you link to the form, you will see that each page has the range of events that I can offer, from planning consulting, workshops, community engagement, stakeholder engagement, book launch activities, public lectures etc.  If you are an eclipse coordinator, please complete the form, ticking those events of interest.

I will then be able to collate this information, start plotting and planning a rough tour outline, and will then get back to you regarding an estimated cost based on your preferences, an estimated time frame, and more detailed information about confirming plans.  It’s simple.

 

tour-poster

 

To make sure your region is included, complete the ‘Expressions of Interest’ Form by 27 January AT THE LATEST.  I’ve been talking about doing this tour for years, literally, and I can’t believe we have now reached the time when I am about to start planning.  Let me help to make it awesome for your community.

06 Dec 2016

How many visitors will come for the eclipse?

How many people will come for the eclipse?
Everyone will be looking up on eclipse day.

As an expert eclipse planning consultant, the most common question I get asked is this – how many people will come to our region for the eclipse?

This is a question that is very difficult to predict with any accuracy. It depends on so many factors – including location along the path, proximity to the center-line, climate statistics and weather on the day, road networks, general appeal, proximity to other tourist attractions, and population of the region.

However, this is the question that communities do need an answer to. Without any estimates, effective planning is difficult. So, what have other regions done in the past when estimating crowds, and how accurate were these estimates?

Accuracy of past estimates

In 2012, initial estimates for the Far North Queensland total eclipse was 30,000, based upon the crowd attending a previous total eclipse in South Australia in 2002.  In the end, 60,000 people descended on the area specifically for the eclipse, staying an average of four days. Accommodation in the region was at full capacity, and the eclipse brought in an estimated Aus $130 million for the local economy. The eclipse was indeed much larger than everyone had imagined.

In 2015, we estimated 5,000 eclipse tourists would come to the Faroe Islands, taking into account remoteness and poor weather predictions. Even this number, however, required creative planning, in a country with only 800 hotel beds. In the end, 11,400 eclipse tourists came, staying for an average five days, generating US $9.5 million for the local economy. Again, the eclipse was much larger than expected – despite the poorer weather prospects.

Even going further back than these recent examples, people have reported that regions tend to underestimate visitor numbers. Every time a total solar eclipse occurs, new generations of eclipse chasers are born, eager to repeat the experience.   Eclipse chaser numbers will only keep growing.

Features that make the 2017 eclipse especially appealing

In my 17 years of eclipse chasing, I have had to travel to some very remote, unusual locations in order to get to the path of totality.  However, the path of totality for 2017 is easily accessible, with good weather prospects, occurring in a country of great appeal, with many unique opportunities for tourism across the path.

The US is the second most visited country in the world, with 77.5 million visitors in 2015. August is already one of the most popular months for visitors. There is no doubt that the interest in this eclipse will be unprecedented.

Michael Zeiler at Great American Eclipse has calculated that 12.2 million people live within the path of totality. 88 million Americans live within 200 miles of the path of totality – which is easy driving distance. It really is unknown how many millions will travel on the day.

Population estimates along the path of totality
Population estimates along the path of totality. (c) Michael Zeiler, www.GreatAmericanEclipse.com

The western sections of the path are most popular amongst eclipse chasers as the weather outlook is more optimistic – yet it is much more sparsely populated. The more densely populated eastern half of the path may have the largest crowds, but generally there are lower chances of clear skies. Ultimately, many believe that this will balance things out, and there is plenty of room along the path for everyone.

How to come up with estimated numbers for your region

I have now talked through this issue with many communities along the path. The key people involved in these discussions are the tourism representatives, local council, and emergency planning chiefs. The aim is to identify a way to calculate total visitor numbers – keeping in mind that these numbers are estimates. Here is a very simple overview.

Largest community event multiplied by the ‘x factor’

The key question is – what is the largest event that is currently hosted in your region? It may be the State Fair, New Years Eve celebrations, 4th of July celebrations, or a music festival.  This largest event shows the draw of your community. Essentially, these attendees will be the same people who will be coming to celebrate the eclipse. But a few more things need to be considered – additional family and friends, those who have sought out the region specifically and have booked; and the many more who will drive in on the day.

So, the advice is to consider your largest crowd, and then multiply this with ‘the x factor’ – this could mean multiplying by 1.5, or 2, or 2.5. This all depends upon the many factors mentioned above, and really does need to be personalized to your community. I told you eclipse planning had many unknowns.

Calculate your maximum capacity

I think it’s important that all communities consider this – What is the maximum number of people who can be safely catered for, and how can you ensure that this is managed. And what is the plan if this is exceeded.

Knowing this figure gives a feeling of control, rather than things being completely unknown, and plans can be made. This can be considered roughly by looking at the following:

  • The population of the region – these people are most likely to remain in the community to view the eclipse;
  • Friends and family of the population – if you live in the path, you will become immensely popular with anyone living outside of the path, who will want to stay with you. You can account for this by perhaps multiplying the population by 2, or else calculating an extra two people per household
  • Total formal accommodation capacity (including hotels, B&B’s, official camping and RV sites)
  • Additional soft capacity (including temporary arrangements such as additional camping grounds, overnight car park facilities, fields that may be used etc)
  • The numbers in tour groups coming in but who may be staying elsewhere

Then consider those additional unknowns, who will be driving in for the day. What is an acceptable level of unknown visitors who can be accommodated for on the day, when you are already at full capacity, with regards to parking and facilities?

Having an estimate is important for planning. I have been encouraging many regions to record how they have calculated their estimates, so that these can be compared to final visitor numbers, allowing some way of working out how accurate numbers could be predicted. This will help to plan for future eclipses – including the next one across the US in 2024.

Eclipse ‘hotspots’

Several locations along the path may be potential ‘hotspots’ for eclipse visitors to congregate. These are those with the best chances of good weather; those with outstanding nature opportunities, and those with something of unique interest.

For example, Grand Teton National Park is one of the few parks along the path. This region is already a high demand tourist area, already at full capacity during August over the last few years. Many people consider this to be the ‘ultimate’ eclipse viewing destination (I’m one of them – my tour is based in Teton village). But the region clearly will not be able to cope unless special considerations are made.

Similarly, Carbondale in Illinois may be another ‘hotspot’, as they are in the unique position of being at the ‘eclipse crossroads’ for the 2017 path and also the 2024 path. Also, Madras in Oregon was identified as having one of the best chances of clear skies, and was one of the first regions to reach full capacity.

If you are in an eclipse ‘hotspot’, then it is essential to develop action plans to avoid over-capacity. Worth exploring are options to control access, and the ability to pre-register interest, or having a lottery system for different venues. Also to be considered are access to food and toilets. It is a far less stressful experience for everybody if people know upfront that they can or cannot get to their preferred viewing location, rather than have to be turned away on the day. Preventing problems from occurring in the first place is in everyone’s interest.

Conclusion

Eclipse planning may be unique and have quite a few unknowns. All but the smallest communities have the expertise to plan a great eclipse experience and associated events for their community and visitors. All you need to do is remember the following: 

Eclipse planning approach - do what you already do, then scale up
There are many unknowns in eclipse planning, but you’ve got this!

If you are involved in planning for your community and want to talk through the issue of estimating numbers, or your eclipse plans in general, then feel free to get in touch for a free Zoom consultation.

21 Aug 2015

Eclipse chasers and Countdowns

Astronomical Clock, PragueAs an eclipse chaser, I plan ahead and know where I will be on specific dates a few years in advance. This means that I am always on ‘eclipse countdown’, using eclipse maps as a scaffold for my future. This may seem rather geeky, but I think it’s rather cool and it also is quite typical eclipse chaser behavior.

Today just happens to be a significant eclipse countdown day. In exactly two years time, on August 21 2017, the path of totality will start in the North Pacific Ocean, make landfall on the Oregon coast, cross the whole of the US to South Carolina and then continue on into the North Atlantic. This is a significant eclipse as it will be easily accessible for tens of millions of people, and is the first to cross the mainland US since 1979.

At this very moment I am in Portland, Oregon not far from where this path of totality makes landfall. I am taking part in an eclipse outreach planning meeting, along with other astronomers, researchers, science educators and involved eclipse chasers. The meeting is held to coincide with this eclipse countdown day, and I will be doing a talk open to the general public along with some key eclipse gurus. Today, Americans across the path of totality will be encouraged to look towards the sky at eclipse time. Key things are to see the exact location of the Sun at first contact and totality time; to observe the weather, and to start considering plans for viewing in 2017. How lucky they are to have this occur in their home territory – something I know well from the eclipse of 2012 that went across North Queensland in Australia, where I am from.

Of course, in two years time on August 21 I know exactly where I will be – viewing this amazing event from within the stunning Grand Teton National Park with my fellow Independent Travellers. Rosemary and Natalie have cleverly secured arrangements in one of the most in-demand locations in the US for the eclipse. Our base is in Jackson Hole near to the centerline. This location really is amazing – both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks can be easily explored, and both have been on my travel wish list for many years. I’m excited about this trip and I cannot wait, although I know from my countdown that there are two full years to go.

But that’s not all. There is another eclipse countdown also occurring this weekend. There are now only 200 days to go for the next total solar eclipse on March 9 2016. The path of totality for this next eclipse crosses Indonesia. I will be in Palu and will be quite involved with the Sulawesi Eclipse Festival. Happily, I will be able to use the opportunity to do more of my psychological research, delving further into the eclipse experience from the perspective of younger travellers.

As well as keeping an eye on future eclipse countdowns, us eclipse chasers often reminisce about past eclipses. Every total eclipse remains special, and marks these awe-inspiring and life-enhancing moments we have in memorable locations across the world. This month marks an especially significant eclipse moment for me – my very first total solar eclipse on August 11 1999, which I saw in Fecamp, France. Those of you who have read my account of this in my first book Total Addiction will know how special it was, and how it marked my transition from an ‘eclipse virgin’ to ‘eclipse chaser’. It really did transform my life, and I had no idea that it would do so. August also marks the 2008 total eclipse that I saw from outer Mongolia – what an incredible and unique experience that was.

Being an eclipse chaser is so rewarding – we look forward to and remember these moments, savoring the awe and beauty of each and every eclipse. I know from my research and personal experience that this makes us appreciate life and the experiences we have, for which we are humbly grateful. How wonderful it is to be an eclipse chaser.

11 Jan 2015

Top 10 madness that is the new year

 

Eclipse chasing isn't just about the eclipse. Mongolia 2008 © Kate Russo
Eclipse chasing isn’t just about the eclipse. Mongolia 2008 © Kate Russo

You cannot open a newspaper, read a magazine or go online lately without seeing a list of ‘top 10’ things to do or places to go this year.

What was especially noticeable this year was the presence of ‘seeing a total solar eclipse’ on most of these lists.   I can’t recall any other time when eclipse chasing appeared to be so high on the agenda. I suspect the main driver for this is the fact that in 2017 the path of totality makes its way across North America from west to east coast, and as a result public interest is at an all time high.

I absolutely agree that seeing a total solar eclipse is worthy of being on everyone’s aspiration list. The experience is other-worldly and beyond expectation. If you have not seen one, then you will not truly understand the buzz and experience until you are standing in the shadow of the Moon, mouth agog and the hair on the back of your neck standing up at sublime beauty of totality.   It is at this moment that you will ask yourself why you took so long to see one.

If seeing these ‘top 10’ lists have whetted your appetite for eclipse chasing, then you would have noticed that your 2015 options for land based eclipse viewing is limited – either the remote Faroe Islands, or rugged Svalbard. The eclipse in March is a little off-season for visiting both of these arctic locations. Despite this, many intrepid and die-hard chasers, and those seeking out-of-the-way adventures, have already planned their trips and soon will be packing their warm clothing. I’ve been banging on about the Faroe Islands now for two years!

But what if you feel the locations on offer are too challenging to get to, too expensive, or if you are not interested in cold weather viewing? Then you may like to know that 2016 might be a better year for you to have your eclipse experience. There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, the path of totality for the total solar eclipse of March 2016 goes right across Indonesia. There are some fabulous travel opportunities with tours being arranged on land and sea. Whatever your preference – exotic, luxury, adventure, or completely off-the-beaten track, you will find interesting options. I will be heading to Sulawesi to see this (my 10th) total eclipse, and attending an Eclipse Festival where I will be able to do further research about the eclipse experience, while experiencing this amazingly diverse country.

Secondly, there is a second eclipse option – an annular solar eclipse takes place in September 2016. An annular eclipse is not as dramatic as a total eclipse (see my article here for the difference), but it is still an amazing sight to see the ‘ring of fire’ as the Moon almost covers the Sun. As in a total eclipse, you have to be within the path of annularity to see the ring of fire, which passes across central Africa, Madagascar and beyond. Top of the pick is Tanzania, where the eclipse coincides with the wildebeest migration, so it will be all about nature and wildlife.

So, if you have already ruled out an arctic total solar eclipse for this year, then make sure to explore options for chasing eclipses for 2016. But get in before those ‘top 10’ lists are published next year – I suspect if you wait for these lists to appear you may well miss the boat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

16 Oct 2013

Planning for 2015 – Part One

 

Me in the incredibly beautiful Faroe Islands. It's quite hard to take a bad photo. (c) Kate Russo
Me in the incredibly beautiful Faroe Islands. It’s quite hard to take a bad photo. (c) Kate Russo

I recently have partnered with The Independent Traveller and am now leading the Eclipse Tour to the Faroe Islands in 2015.  We went recently to explore the islands, to identify several potential eclipse viewing sites, and the many other logistical things that are required when finalising a tour.  I find the islands a fascinating place – so remote yet very connected to the outside world.  The islands are dramatic – you cannot escape nature here.  The people are warm and welcoming, and I love the ‘land of maybe’ attitude – things may or may not happen, all depending upon the weather.

What is interesting about the islands is that people were not really aware of what was going to happen in 2015.  We spoke to a lot of people, and I did an evening presentation about the eclipse and the locals are very keen to be involved.  The media were very interested in interviewing us.  The interest is there, but there is this interesting parallel perhaps related to the ‘land of maybe’ attitude that little has yet been centrally coordinated.  This is changing, however. In the meantime, I’m still going to come across as that crazy lady who gets excited about something that is happening quite a long time in the future.

Another interesting thing about the Faroe Islands is that they experienced a Total Solar Eclipse in 1954 – within living memory.  Many people we spoke to recalled their parents talking about the eclipse, or else experienced it for themselves.  Our tour guide, Olaf, described how he was playing football outside with a few friends when it suddenly went dark. He recalled being terrified and running into the house.  Others seemed to be aware that the eclipse was happening.  It is certainly an amazingly beautiful place to observe a total eclipse. The weather is going to be a little bit of a challenge – the islands are renowned for unstable weather.  You cannot predict the weather, nor can you control what happens.  But what you can do is to obtain local guidance and plan what you can and have back up plans.  Having been there, I am more confident about seeing the eclipse.  Transport and communication networks are excellent, meaning you can easily relocate the night before / early morning based on the weather.

I can’t wait to return to these lovely islands.  If it wasn’t for the eclipse, I probably would never have visited. Eclipse chasing certainly allows you to experience so much more in life and opens up to many rich experiences.