Icon (Close Menu)

Logout

Eclipse Economics: Arkansas Expects Tourism Boom on the HorizonLock Icon

5 min read

To calculate how many eclipse chasers will be looking skyward in Arkansas at 1:45 p.m. on Monday, April 8, economists and tourism officials started by looking backward.

To Aug. 21, 2017, the day of the last total solar eclipse visible in the United States.

For states like Nebraska and Wyoming, that eclipse was the single biggest tourism event in history, bringing in hundreds of thousands of travelers and nearly $200 million in economic impact.

“When it comes down to single tourist events, this might very well qualify” as the biggest thing ever in Arkansas tourism, said Michael Pakko, the chief economist and state economic forecaster at the Arkansas Economic Development Institute.

“The impact studies that I’ve reviewed from Wyoming and Nebraska tourist agencies describe it as the biggest single tourist event on record,” he said. “I can’t recall any time that we’ve had a Super Bowl or the World’s Fair here in Arkansas, so I would say that this would probably qualify.”

Arkansas Hospitality Association Executive Director Katie Beck expects a flood of visitors, but emphasized that many hotels still have rooms available for the long eclipse weekend. “Travelers should book their rooms soon, though, because they’re booking fast.”

Restaurants have prepared for the influx by adding extra food deliveries and refrigerated storage, she said, and many hotels have required minimum stays of two to three nights “to handle the traffic and logistics.”

Numbers From 2017

More than 700,000 traveled to see the eclipse in Nebraska in 2017, Pakko said, 87% of them from out of state. Nearly 80% stayed overnight, spending an average three days, with an economic impact of $127 million. Hotel and motel rooms were filled, AirbnB rentals skyrocketed, and 27% of the crowd stayed at campgrounds.

Wyoming had 261,000 visitors, 75% from out of state, spending an average of $930 dollars each: $370 on lodging, $200 on food and beverages and $150 on travel, mostly for gasoline.

So how many people are headed for Arkansas, and what economic impact will they bring?

“Well, those are good questions,” Pakko said, calling the equation “something of a guesswork.”

Researcher Michael Zeiler published a model on greatamericaneclipse.com that projected 84,000 to 337,000 out-of-state visitors will come to Arkansas, but the model underestimated tourism seen in Nebraska and Wyoming seven years ago.

“I found that [Zeiler] underestimated the experience of Wyoming and Nebraska, but he got South Carolina just about right. It seems to me that perhaps his model doesn’t capture maybe a greater willingness to travel long distances to see an eclipse in the western Midwest compared to the highly populated East Coast.”

Pakko came up with his own projections, anticipating that at least 160,000 travelers will come to Arkansas from out of state. His top projection is 350,000. Many Arkansans will certainly travel from their homes into the zone of totality, and they will buy food and gas, but probably not book rooms. More than 1.7 million Arkansans live in the zone of totality.

“The fact is that we’re probably going to see a lot of travelers from within Arkansas traveling to the zone of totality, and that means the economic impacts are going to be more concentrated in that band across the state,” Pakko said.

Beck said the number of people in the totality zone could nearly double during the eclipse.

Projected Impact From Out-of-State Eclipse Tourism

Impact Low Estimate (160,000 Visitors) High Estimate (350,000 Visitors)
Employment Labor Income Value Added Employment Labor Income Value Added
Direct 582 $16.65M

$29.18M

1,274 $36.42M $63.84M
Indirect 98

$5.59M

$10.31M 215 $12.22M $22.55M
Induced 97 $4.66M mil. $8.69M 212 $10.18M $19M
Total 777 $26.89M $48.18M 1,701 $58.82M $105.39M
(Source: Michael Pakko, Ph.D.)

Up to $105M in Added Value

Arkansas has typically good weather for skywatching, and campgrounds and hotels abound in towns like Hot Springs, Conway, Batesville, Jonesboro and Heber Springs. Morrilton, Russellville and Atkins are in the middle of the zone, where the eclipse will last for more than four minutes. Hot Springs National Park is one of only two national parks nationwide in the total eclipse zone.

NASA and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration are sending nine scientists and educators to Hot Springs for the event. They will share activities and presentations at a Bridge Street event on Thursday, April 4, emphasizing eclipse safety and heliophysics, the study of the sun’s effects on Earth and other bodies in the solar system.

All of Interstate 30 from Texarkana to Little Rock is in the totality zone, as is a stretch of I-40 from Atkins to west of Lonoke. The moon’s shadow will cross from southwest to northeast Arkansas at speeds from 1,700 to 1,850 miles per hour.

Shea Lewis

Pakko said that since the eclipse falls on a Monday, just as it did in 2017, travelers are likely to celebrate over a long weekend. “So that is going to contribute to the magnitude of the impact.”

Pakko predicts that if his most optimistic estimate of 350,000 travelers is accurate, the tourism wave will add a value of $105 million to the state’s GDP and close to $60 million in income.

Shea Lewis, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage & Tourism, said state park accommodations in the totality zone are fully booked, and that special events are scheduled for the entire weekend.

“When we opened up for reservations within state parks, there was an immediate strong response,” said Lewis, who is looking forward to showing off Arkansas’ many attractions to first-time visitors. “Being in a natural setting during the eclipse is attractive to a lot of folks. But I think other people will want to be in municipalities like Little Rock, Russellville, Hot Springs or Eureka Springs to celebrate the experience, to go out for a fine meal or to the clubs.

Hoping to Wow Newcomers

“We really hope from this eclipse that guests and visitors who are new to our state or haven’t been in a while come here and have a really good experience, and then want to come back and spend more time with us,” Lewis said.

Pakko agreed.

“One of the reasons I think that Arkansas is going to experience a fairly strong tourist impact is that we have a lot of nice open spaces and state parks, the kind of places away from the big cities that benefit most from tourism under ordinary circumstances,” Pakko said.

Beck, of the Hospitality Association, said eclipse viewers will need certified protective eyeglasses. “We actually have glasses through the Hospitality Association and we’ve been able to facilitate getting them out to towns all across the state.”

Beck said that after years of planning, her own eclipse fever has been growing. “When I started in this role about two years ago, this was the topic of one of my first meetings,” she said. “So it’s been building for two years, and just seeing people get excited as it draws closer has been fun.

“The timing being in April, getting into spring, should let people get outdoors and see the beauty and diversity of our state. From Hot Springs to the Buffalo River and the beauty of the Delta, visitors will get to see what Arkansas has to offer.”

Send this to a friend