Witnessing a total solar eclipse can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and on April 8, 2024, when the path of a total eclipse will touch 53 of Arkansas’ 75 counties, many in-state organizations are preparing to use the opportunity for tourism, marketing and education.
Kim Williams, eclipse project manager and travel writer with Arkansas Tourism, said the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism will work with communities, businesses and organizations throughout the state to help make the 2024 eclipse “as wonderful of an event as we can.”
Promotional help for communities
Williams said Arkansas Tourism has been working with state and federal agencies to ensure eclipse tourists can find travel and hospitality information on the website Arkansas.com/eclipse and provide promotional materials and guidance for communities in the months leading up to the event.
Williams encouraged Arkansas communities to offer activities for eclipse visitors.
“You can do absolutely nothing, and the people are still going to come,” Williams said. “But are they going to have a good experience? No, not if there’s nothing for them to do. We want to get them in town early, we want them to stay put, and we want them to stay late.”
The “arrive early, stay put, stay late” approach takes into consideration the large influx of eclipse tourists and traffic that Arkansas communities will face. During the 2017 total solar eclipse, Wyoming was in the path of totality. According to an economic impact study commissioned by the Wyoming Office of Tourism, more than 261,000 people traveled in the state, with about 75 percent being out-of-state residents. A total of $63.5 million in travel spending in Wyoming could be attributed to the eclipse, $59.8 million of which was made by out-of-state tourists. This travel spending generated $3.8 million in local tax revenue.
Julianne Dunn, extension instructor of economic development for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said that because the 2024 eclipse could draw tens of thousands of visitors to Arkansas, the preceding years present a great opportunity for communities to have a “sense of urgency” to complete improvement projects.
“You have about two years, with a deadline, that you can use to look at your priorities and address them,” Dunn said. “The first thing to look at is infrastructure. Could your community handle even a couple hundred people over a weekend? And that’s sewers, that’s water, that’s electricity, that’s Wi-Fi – these are the core components of what makes your town run.”
Dunn and Williams both emphasized the need for communities to focus on logistics and “risk management” ahead of the eclipse, including emergency services. Traffic, particularly during the mass exodus of cars leaving Arkansas after the eclipse, will inevitably cause delays in services, especially in many communities with one-lane highways.
The “stay late” element of this approach to eclipse tourism is key to the traffic problem: by encouraging visitors to stay the night after the eclipse ends around 3:30 p.m. on Monday, April 8, some of this departure traffic can be avoided.
Start planning now
Williams said she suggested for community leaders, such as extension county agents, to set up meetings with local government officials and start a conversation about preparing for eclipse tourists.
“Step one would be to try to set up a meeting with the mayor, the county judge, the quorum court, or the city council,” Williams said. “Try to get them in a room and say ‘Look, this is coming, and there’s nothing we can do about it except make it the best we can.’”
Dunn and Williams both encouraged communities to “get creative” about lodging during the weekend of the 2024 eclipse, such as by sectioning off and renting plots of empty fields and lots for tent or RV camping.
“This is a very unique experience, where you can feel fairly confident that no matter what happens, there will be a group of people that come to your town that have never been there before,” Dunn said. “This is the best opportunity we have ever had to show off how great it is to live, work and play here.”
Dunn said the extension Community, Professional and Economic Development unit plans to help communities, when requested, with having those conversations with their local leaders about eclipse planning and infrastructure improvements.
For more resources and information about the 2024 Great North American total solar eclipse and its path across Arkansas, visit ar-eclipse.info. As April 8, 2024 draws closer, check the Arkansas 4-H Science page for educational resources and the C.A. Vines Arkansas 4-H Center website for booking information.