The lights went out – Eclipse in China

July 23, 2009

It’s the morning of Wednesday 22nd July 2009 and a very relieved Explore tour leader has just reported in that her group in China was ferried to the right place at the right time to see the incredible solar eclipse – the longest for a century.

Across the densely populated Asian path of this celestial event, there must have been hundreds of millions of pairs of eyes, shielded by pieces of card or dark plastic or funky branded cardboard sunglasses witnessing an event that in various parts of the world is seen as a good omen, a bad omen, potentially harmful to unborn babies, proof of God’s existence or simply a wonderful life-affirming, beautiful and once-in-a-lifetime event.

Once in a lifetime, except of course that there’s another one coming along next year.

It’s going to be a little harder to see the 2010 eclipse, as it races at 1500 miles an hour along a narrow corridor above mostly endless Pacific Ocean; but thankfully, Easter Island, that most enigmatic and tragic of island communities, lies directly in its path, giving a lucky few a truly unique experience. And of course, Explore will be there to see it.

Explore customers watching the eclipse in China

This sort of one-off event provides an adventure operator like Explore with a great opportunity to showcase organisational and logistical skills though. To set up any tour is a highly complex business, involving people in marketing, operations, purchasing, product, tour leader logistics, ground agents, responsible tourism and customer relations departments, with personnel both in the UK and overseas. But to produce a tour whose whole focus is a 6 minute event, totally out of anyone’s control (unless you’re in the “proof of God’s existence” camp perhaps), and often in a remote and inaccessible location throws up a whole extra level of challenge and stress for all involved.

Planning for the eclipse in Easter Island started in 2008 and will not be finalised until airline schedules are confirmed in September this year. By the time the tours depart, the time from original idea to aircraft taking off will have been around two years and will be the result of decisions made by around 50 people. Logistically challenging anyway, Easter Island is likely to be a busy wee spot come July next year, with its hotel and camping accommodation at full stretch. There is also expected to be a world shortage of eclipse experts in July 2010 (actually I made that up) but as having a knowledgeable commentator on hand is de-rigueur at these events, booking the few good ones had to be completed several months ago too.

So, four tours will depart in July next year, carrying a maximum of 24 people each. They will travel around 30,000km, spend upwards of £5000 each, camp in reasonably basic conditions for 3 nights and stare at the sun for a scant few minutes – but all of them will think it worth it for an utterly unique and exclusive experience. With thanks to Explore & International Life