The solar eclipse, on the morning of Aug. 21, is likely to be one of the larger tourism events in Oregon history, bringing an estimated 1 million visitors to the state from far and wide. Among them are an expected 272 Japanese men, women and children, who will be traveling around 5,000 miles to view a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon from the Kah-Nee-Ta Resort & Spa on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.
“We’re really excited, not just to show off what we have at Kah-Nee-Ta, but also what the tribes have to offer,” said Cruz Bocanegra, group sales manger for Kah-Nee-Ta.
For three days and two nights in August, the 139-room resort will be rented out entirely to the Japanese visitors, who will participate in an evolving itinerary of events in and around the resort, ranging from daily salmon bakes to rafting trips on the Deschutes River. On the morning of the eclipse — when the moon will pass in front of the sun, obscuring it completely for around two minutes in Warm Springs — the visitors will watch the spectacle from their hotel balconies and from empty black-top parking lots adjacent to the resort, Bocanegra said.
As with many hotel bookings related to the August eclipse, both the resort and the visitors began planning well in advance. Bocanegra said the resort first began getting calls in 2011 from people looking to stay during the eclipse six years later. Those interested were initially added to a waiting list, until 2014, when the resort got a call from Kintetsu International, a worldwide travel agency.
Kintetsu booked the resort for the tour group of Japanese eclipse aficionados, who will pay an undisclosed premium rate. Additionally, the resort will be open for day visitors who are looking for a place to spend time on their way to or from the Willamette Valley.
“The lodge is going to have a lot of people,” Bocanegra said.
The visitors from Japan, along with other visitors flocking to Warm Springs for the eclipse, promise to be a boon for an area that has struggled economically in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Businesses and organizations operated by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, including Kah-Nee-Ta, have shed around 130 jobs since 2013, according to Damon Runberg, regional economist from the Oregon Employment Department.
Alyssa Macy, chief operations officer for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, said the area has gotten a lot of attention from visitors looking to watch the eclipse without running into the crowds expected in Madras and elsewhere. There are several public events planned in and around Warm Springs, including a partnership with NASA that will bring more than 70 middle-school and high-school students from tribes around the Pacific Northwest to the Warm Springs K-8 Academy. They plan to launch high-altitude balloons that will take photos of the eclipse as it happens.
“I think there’s an opportunity for the tribes here,” Macy said.
The Japanese tour group, which Bocanegra said primarily includes seniors and families, will fly from Tokyo to Portland — a flight that lasts more than 10 hours, according to Delta Airlines’ website — and take eight chartered buses to Warm Springs, using a separate tour company based in Portland. The group will be accompanied by Japanese-speaking guides from Portland.
“We’ve always had a good relationship with Japanese tour and travel (companies),” Bocanegra said.
Greg Eckhart, manager of global sales for Travel Oregon’s Asia operations, said Kah-Nee-Ta began to host student groups from Tokyo and Osaka on trips to the United States in the 1980s. He added that “From Oregon with Love,” a Japanese television show set in Central Oregon that aired during the 1980s and 1990s, helped attract visitors to the region as well. The interest diminished somewhat over time, but Eckhart said the eclipse represented an opportunity to revive Japanese interest in Central Oregon.
“I really believe that the eclipse is a way to get the state’s name out there in a way that doesn’t come around very often,” Eckhart said.
Oregon has become a popular destination for Japanese tourists. Eckhart said Oregon received 67,000 visitors from Japan in 2016, making the archipelago Oregon’s largest overseas market.
Bocanegra added that Japan is one of the strongest inbound markets for Native American resorts across the Western United States, which made Kah-Nee-Ta a natural fit for Japanese visitors looking for a place to watch the eclipse in the United States.
He said most of the activities for the visitors will be concentrated in and near the resort, as traffic related to the eclipse will likely make long road trips around Central Oregon a challenge. Along with the daily salmon bakes at Kah-Nee-Ta, bands will play live music in dining areas during the visits, according to Bocanegra. Optional trips to Mount Hood and the Deschutes River will be considered if traffic is relatively light.
Macy added that she expects members of the tour group to make it into town for some events. In addition to the partnership with NASA, she said the Warm Springs Museum will host artists from throughout the region.
“It’s an opportunity to build relationships with other communities,” Macy said.
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