By Aspire Economic Development + Chamber Alliance
As the solar eclipse approaches, Indiana’s tourism and emergency management agencies are being proactive to ensure that communities and businesses are well-prepared and able to capitalize on the economic opportunities of this rare celestial event.
The Indiana Destination Development Corporation emphasized the uniqueness of this eclipse in the state’s history, and they anticipate a substantial positive impact on tourism and the local economy.
“Local businesses, including restaurants, hotels, shops and service providers may experience a surge in customers, and in turn a welcome boost to revenue. The eclipse is a natural opportunity to showcase local attractions and destinations,” said Justus O’Neil, public relations and social media officer at the IDDC.
“Visitors drawn to the eclipse might explore other aspects of the local community that can contribute to a broader awareness of what the community has to offer. Hosting an eclipse event also provides an opportunity for positive media coverage, which could encourage future visitors to make a trip beyond the eclipse,” he said.
According to O’Neil, Indiana is estimated to welcome nearly 500,000 visitors during the eclipse and surrounding days.
“There is a tremendous amount of buzz surrounding the total solar eclipse and Indiana is estimated to have a large influx of visitors across the state who are traveling to the path of totality,” he said.
To assist businesses, Visit Indiana offers an interactive events map on their dedicated eclipse webpage: visitindiana.com/eclipse2024
“We continually update this page with new events as they are submitted, but it may not be a complete list of events, so working with local tourism entities can ensure that surprises are avoided,” said O’Neil. “Local tourism entities are great resources to get connected with to help promote local businesses during the eclipse, so we encourage business owners to reach out and inquire about any unique circumstances that their local community might encounter.”
The local tourism agency for Johnson County is the Festival Country Indiana visitor center in Franklin.
“Total eclipse events truly do draw people from across the nation and, in some cases, from across the globe,” said Kenneth Kosky, executive director at Festival Country Indiana.
“Because our communities have many open spaces for eclipse viewing, and because many of our churches and schools are opening as viewing sites, we anticipate seeing 100,000 visitors April 6 to 8.”
Festival Country’s strategic planning, dispersion efforts and collaboration with law enforcement aim to manage crowd flow efficiently.
“We are fortunate to be along Interstate 65 and several other major roads, and we also have law enforcement agencies that have been planning for this event for quite some time,” said Kosky.
“We are also encouraging our event organizers and our attendees to stick around for a few hours after the eclipse totality so that everybody doesn’t leave at once. We hope people will be patient and expect heavy traffic, but that they will also be part of the solution by planning to arrive early and to stay a little later.”
Learning from the economic impact experienced by other communities, Kosky urges businesses to stay open and capitalize on the natural phenomenon.
“We have consulted with other communities that were part of the 2017 eclipse and, as an example, Casper, Wy. saw an economic impact of $7.5 million for their five-day eclipse period,” said Kosky.
“One of our roles as Johnson County’s tourism agency is to encourage businesses to be open on the day of the eclipse, even though it is a Monday, and they might normally be closed. We educate them that this can be a very profitable day for their restaurant, store or other business, and they can help give visitors a positive impression of their time in our area.”
He suggests offering eclipse-themed meals and merchandise and encourages businesses to plan for potential traffic and parking challenges.
“Tourism-related businesses should definitely be open and have a plan to handle more customers, like encouraging restaurants to pare down their menu to a few quick-to-prepare boxed lunches or eclipse-themed meals like Moon Pies,” said Kosky.
“We are letting stores know that people will be looking for T-shirts and other mementos of this monumental occasion. For non-tourism businesses, our advice would be to know that traffic and parking might be issues in certain settings, like downtowns, and to consider letting employees work from home or take the day off if possible.”
Stephanie Sichting, Johnson County EMA director, activated an Incident Management Team that is responsible for creating and executing an emergency plan for the eclipse event.
“On this team, we have law, fire and health departments, EMA, E911, county commissioners, Johnson Memorial Hospital representatives and amateur radio members,” said Sichting. “We are working to have law, fire, EMS and amateur radio members that will be stationed in the northeast, northwest, southeast, southwest areas of the county so when response is needed, we will send the closest group to the call to make it safer and quicker for them to respond.”
Sichting highlights the need for businesses to be self-sufficient during the event, as emergency responders may not be able to address all calls.
“Businesses need to go online to see how other states that have had this eclipse event in the past how their businesses prepared,” said Sichting.
The team is preparing for potential traffic issues, including standstills for hours after the eclipse, and advises businesses to plan for increased demand for essentials.
“With previous events, they mentioned that people ran out of fuel after sitting still for a long time. Businesses need to be aware that when you have this additional number of visitors to the area, they will be purchasing food, fuel, snacks and other necessities.”