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As the solar eclipse darkened skies, it made SC cash registers go ka-ching!

Beachgoers at the Isle of Palms, S.C., look up during the Aug. 21 solar eclipse. The 1.6 million travelers made it South Carolina’s largest-ever tourist event.
Beachgoers at the Isle of Palms, S.C., look up during the Aug. 21 solar eclipse. The 1.6 million travelers made it South Carolina’s largest-ever tourist event. AP

The Aug. 21 solar eclipse that crossed the heart of South Carolina, filling hotels from Greenville to Charleston, became the state’s largest tourist event on record.

About 1.6 million people traveled to or within the state to see the eclipse, the state Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism said this week. Hotel bookings and other travel spending left an estimated $269 million economic impact.

North Carolina, where the 70-mile-wide path of total eclipse was limited to a few western counties, didn’t assess its economic impacts. State tourism statistics for August, compared to a year earlier, show that demand for hotel rooms rose 3.7 percent in the southwestern counties and 2.3 percent for other western counties.

Advance estimates had predicted that up to 2.1 million travelers would flood South Carolina highways for the eclipse.

The South Carolina research, which combines data on hotel occupancies with other sources, found that about half the travelers moved within the state. The 800,000 from out of state came primarily from North Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

The numbers are considered conservative because they don’t include the many international visitors who came for the event.

Most visitors stayed overnight and shopped, ate and visited other attractions while there. Greenville, Columbia and Charleston hosted the most viewers.

“Typically in the third weekend in August, tourism is winding down,” Dawn Dawson-House, spokeswoman for the South Carolina parks department, told The State news site.

Instead, she said, hotel occupancy statewide was up 50 percent, state park attendance was up 400 percent, and in the path of totality, camping sites and cabins were sold out.

More than 12 million people live inside the path of totality, GreatAmericanEclipse.com reported. The site had estimated that as many as 7.4 million more would travel to see the event.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender

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