Towns across the state should be planning “for a two- or three-day festival” April 8, 2024, for a total solar eclipse that will reportedly last four minutes and 26 seconds, according to Division of Arkansas Tourism Director Travis Napper.
Even though the eclipse is still years away, an “In the Know” on-site and virtual meeting was held Wednesday morning by the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce with Napper to talk about it.
He said community leaders should give those visiting the city to view the eclipse “a reason to fully experience your destination to its fullest, and know that people will come here and they may go somewhere else during those days and that’s OK. We have the type of people who are willing to come.
“... So it’s not four minutes it’s over and I’m out of town, but it’s four minutes are over and now the marquee thing ends up being that night. Some people will leave right after it’s over, but we can spread that event into that night and hopefully the next day as well, plus that’s just more economic impact in all of our communities as well.”
According to nationaleclipse.com, the eclipse “will trace a narrow path of totality across 13 U.S. states.” In addition to Arkansas, the other states are Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
“This is already on our radar and while that seems a long, long ways away, it has been on our radar,” Napper said. “We have already had sessions with the leading NASA scientists ... making sure we are aware of it and that is on our radar and what we can do.
“We have also been working with a lady named Brook Kaufman [CEO of Visit Casper] from Casper, Wyo., which was deemed one of the best places to watch the last one in 2017. She has been kind of unofficially consulting with us and has been extremely helpful to us as an office. But we also had a follow-up webinar with over 100 different people from different communities to learn what they learned.”
According to Napper, for the total solar eclipse in 2017, communities promoting it had a “much smaller time frame. They only planned for about 16 months ahead of time, which does seem like a lot of time, but we got a major head start on that.”
Napper said he was told by Kaufman that Arkansas is far ahead of many of the other states from viewing locations that she has communicated with.
“I am glad that we are ahead of this,” Napper said. “We will continue to offer opportunities for communities to learn best practices – what did work for them, what didn’t work, what they would do differently. In the end, we see ourselves as a gathering of all the opportunities that are available. We want the communities to be on the forefront, the opportunities for guests and visitors to come in and participate with this.
“It is on a Monday and I would say that is not the ideal day; this is the same day that it was in 2017, which is great that we have the exact situation that they had.”
During the 2017 total solar eclipse, Napper said Wyoming saw over 100,000 visitors and “that is with zero marketing. They did not market the fact that they were a great place to view it. They were in the path of totality. They spent no money on that, very little effort. All their effort was on planning.”
“We believe with us getting out ahead of it, we will have the planning taken care of but she [Kaufman] said, ‘If you just go and invite people to come, you will be amazed on how that number will just explode.’ Just by my eye, our state has be, if not the best, one of the best for the most coverage of full totality.”
He said it has been said that every portion of Arkansas will be within 85 percent of totality coverage, “which is considered extremely good.”
Kaufman told Napper that people are always going to ask “What’s going to be the impact of this?” and she said, “What are you doing to make sure they [the visitors] are having a good time and will want to come back?’
The Arkansas Department of Transportation and the Arkansas State Police are also working with the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism along with those in education on the state level to make sure they are prepared logistically for the total solar eclipse in Arkansas.
“We can make sure we are doing the right things to offer the best experience while they are here and they just don’t leave with just a really cool experience but ‘Man, that took a lot out of us getting home, or whatever,’” Napper said, “but that we can offer them a great experience from the beginning to the very end.”
Casper did a whole lot, Napper said, to make 2017’s total solar eclipse a festival event over the course of multiple days. In Arkansas, Napper said the locations for viewing will be on hills, mountains, rivers, lakes, streams, cities and everywhere in between, so there will be a lot of variety in an event, including group activities that can be scheduled.
“It’s just tremendous,” he said. “I think it will be a great kickoff to that time of year and you are really bumping up tourism toward that summer travel season.”
Leaving Searcy and wanting to come back to Searcy is something Napper talked about as the key to making this opportunity successful.
An idea Napper discussed was making the total solar eclipse timeframe a time to have a weekend for students to come visit Harding University a weekend and then “give them the added benefit of the event on the back end.”
Also with a “great downtown,” Napper said visitors will always gravitate toward it. Napper said the organizers in Casper took a pair of glasses and a “one-pager” of information about the 2017 event to businesses just so they were aware of it, and a lot of them weren’t until they got that information.
Getting this information out on the local level “pretty soon” is what Napper is recommending. “They will have plenty of time to think about how they can build a program for that.”
Napper said banks should have enough money in ATMs to handle the crowd that comes in. “That will be the source for them to get more cash, especially if it’s more of a fair or festival environment. If you are bringing in international people, do they [the banks] have currency to do that exchange? I just encourage any of you to think of your job through the lens of tourism and how you can be an advocate for your town.”