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Casper Residents Accommodate Eclipse Visitors, Airbnb Numbers Soar

Maggie Mullen

Wyoming towns in the path of totality for the solar eclipse are expecting huge crowds, including Casper, and hotel rooms there are almost entirely booked. As a result, a record number of locals are using the home sharing service Airbnb to accommodate visitors and to make some of that eclipse cash.

Casper residents Josh Thompson and Rachel Schuh are getting ready to welcome strangers into their home--they’ve signed up to be hosts on Airbnb.

The online service lets property owners rent out their spare bedroom, apartment, or entire home at a price of their choosing. Thompson said they hadn’t heard of Airbnb until recently.

“When I get wind that there was going to be a total solar eclipse and Casper was going to be in the path of totality, like two or three years ago,” said Thompson, “I had the idea that, ‘I wonder if lodging will be a problem?’”

Airbnb Press Secretary Jasmine Mora said Thompson is not the only one to have that bright idea. She said along the path of totality, there has been a sharp increase in reservations for the days surrounding the eclipse. Mora said that spike has been sharpest the night before the eclipse in Casper.

“There’ll be over 1,100 guest arrivals and that’s an increase of over 7,000-percent from the previous week,” said Mora.

Mora said this isn’t completely unusual. During special events, when big crowds heighten the demand for lodging, more families may decide to rent out their space, which ensures that affordable options are available.

Because hotel inventories are fixed, the price of a room can skyrocket and they can sell out quickly. Some of the few hotel rooms left in Casper are listed around 2,500 dollars a night.

Wyoming Eclipse Festival Executive Director Anna Wilcox said when those prices started rising, local residents saw an opportunity. Wilcox said a lot of them wanted to make a little extra cash, while others saw it was a way to help as many people visit Casper as possible.

“So it wasn’t, ‘you give me X amount of money and I’ll vacate my house and stay with the neighbor or with a relative during the weekend,’ but somebody who said, ‘I want to give somebody a true Wyoming experience, one that would be different than say at a campground or hotel,’” said Wilcox.

In order to help residents capitalize on the opportunity, Wilcox said they teamed up with the Natrona County Public Library to host Airbnb workshops.

To become a host, you first create a listing complete with a description of the property, photos and a price. Then, you set the availability and house rules--like no pets, no smoking, or no parties. Once it’s posted, guests can find it by searching the website for a place that fits their needs and then make a reservation, like they would with a hotel.

Wilcox said a lot of the listings for Casper have photos that resemble what some visitors might imagine the West to look like.

“They’re really Wyoming!” said Wilcox. “Whether it’s deer and antler on the walls, and the lodgepole furniture, I mean there are so many things that would give them that true experience, 100 percent.”

Josh Thompson and Rachel Schuh don’t have any deer or antler on their walls, but they did manage to book guests  pretty quickly. However, Thompson said they wished they wouldn’t posted their listing sooner.

“I think as more and more people found out about that as a possibility to make a little extra money, they did, and as a product of that, the market definitely deflated a bit. So we’re at I think about 600 a night for three nights, so less than half of what we’re hoping to get, but it’s better than nothing!” said Thompson.

Their guests will stay three nights at their house, while Thompson and Schuh stay with family down the street. Schuh said some people might think the whole thing is too much of a hassle.

“There are a lot of people who are, they’re like ‘I would never do that! I would never rent my house out! Not even for a short, few days,’” said Schuh, “‘too much work.’”

Schuh said it will take some time to clean up the house, clear out some of the closets and drawers, and board their dog, but they think it will be worth it, since they plan to use the money to fund some home improvement projects.

Schuh and Thompson do not expect to go into the Airbnb business full time.

Maggie Mullen is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. Her work has aired on NPR, Marketplace, Science Friday, and Here and Now. She was awarded a 2019 regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her story on the Black 14.

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