Don’t worry, come early — Kingston tour operator plays down possibility of 500K visitors during eclipse

Kingston eclipse

Is there such a thing as too much tourism? As Kingston prepares for an influx of tourists hoping to be in the path of totality during Monday’s solar eclipse, tourism operators will soon find out.

Kingston is one of a handful of Canadian cities that will be in the path of totality and be plunged into nighttime-like darkness for almost three minutes Monday. To mark the rare event, Kingston tourism officials have been busy pulling out all the stops

And the marketing has been effective — perhaps too effective — with some early projections suggesting the city could be overrun by as many as half a million tourists on the big day.

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But despite concerns over potential safety issues, jammed cellphone networks and the possibility of blocked streets and limited parking, everything is going to plan for Eric Ferguson, general manager of Kingston Destination Group, which includes Kingston 1000 Islands Cruises, Kingston Trolley Tours, K-Pass, Waterfront Gifts and Apparel and Kingston Walks.

Ferguson’s team is getting ready to shine on what he calls “eclipse weekend,” starting tomorrow and going through to the grand event on April 8.

The eclipse-themed offerings from Kingston Destination Group include tours and presentations, but one of the biggest offerings is the eclipse package on the Island Queen Cruise, a three-level ship that tours through the Thousand Islands. This will be the earliest the Island Queen has ever sailed and the eclipse cruise is sold out, Ferguson said.

And despite the worldwide attention that Kingston has been receiving for its eclipse offerings, Ferguson said there’s no need to panic. According to him, it’s not the first time Kingston will be busier than usual.

“The Kingston we’re used to has people arriving at peak times, especially with move-in times for the semester at Queen’s University, for example,” he explained. “In reality, it’s slow, but it works.

“At some point, a number of 500,000 was used, and I think that’s much higher than the reality. I’d say we can expect tens of thousands, but not much more than that,” Ferguson continued. “If people plan extra time into their days, use extra parking options, maybe further from downtown, and then walk or take transit, it’ll be okay.”

In anticipation of a busy Monday, Ferguson said he’s encouraging tourists to come to Kingston earlier and spend the whole weekend. Kingston 1000 Island Cruises will be offering a “Heart of the Islands” cruise on Sunday and while the cruise isn’t eclipse-themed, Ferguson said it’s a great opportunity to “get out and about before the big day.”

The eclipse viewing offerings at Fort Henry National Historic Site, which include guest speakers, local entertainment, children’s crafts and activities, an artisan market and a special viewing party, are sold out. So are most of the hotels, which Tourism Kingston said was “anticipated and planned for.”

Kingston Tourism is also encouraging tourists to “plan ahead, arrive early and expect travel delays,” as well as use Kingston Transit, which will be free on Monday, chief marketing officer Alison Migneault wrote in an email to OBJ.

The City of Kingston has not declared a local state of emergency, as have officials in the Niagara Falls region in anticipation of massive eclipse crowds. However, Kingston officials have recommended that local residents avoid driving and attempt to view the eclipse from home to avoid increased traffic. There are also planned road closures.

“The main message is, ‘For heaven’s sake, come on Saturday or Sunday,’” laughed Ferguson. “Park at a hotel, walk downtown … Just don’t make driving into Kingston your plan on Monday when it could be a much better experience on the weekend.”

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