Virtual tours have become a go-to avenue for tourism entities across Arkansas to carry on with programming during COVID-19. The Sandwiching in History tours offered by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, AHPP, has not only continued via virtual means, it has also shown an increase in popularity due to doing so.
“While our staff truly enjoys meeting with history buffs here in Central Arkansas, our monthly in-person tours were generally limited to about 50 to 100 people depending on the public’s level of interest in the topic and the number of guests a location could accommodate,” said Scott Kaufman, agency director for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. “The format for the tours was basically a one-hour lunch lecture where a historian or staff member read a script and answered questions while everyone looked on at the historic site being discussed. We did record and archive these to our YouTube channel, but there was very little production value. In 2020, when we made the switch to virtual, not only were we provided with a unique opportunity to begin increasing the production value of these programs, but we saw the number of people exposed to the tours grow.”
Kaufman said for example, their October 2020 tour to St. Joseph’s Orphanage in North Little Rock reached more than 2,100 people and has had more than 3,000 minutes viewed. Because those tours live online, the analytics continue to grow too.
“Were we surprised by the growth in popularity after taking the Sandwiching in History tours virtual? You bet,” said Kaufman. “Suddenly people from every corner of the state could experience a slice of Arkansas heritage either by joining us live the first Friday of the month or anytime from the comfort of their couch. The consolation of not being in person was assuaged by being able to give our viewers a behind the scenes look at things they wouldn’t be able to see during an in-person tour, historic photos that give context, plus we’ve made a concerted effort this year to include interviews with experts which really help bring the stories to life.”
Kaufman said the programs are designed to be both an intriguing and informative look at historical locations in Arkansas. “I think ideally, we are trying to reach those that are well versed in history and those that have not yet truly realized how interesting history can be, especially their local and state history,” he said. “Every year we try to come up with an eclectic mix of tour locations so that we always have something new for the public to enjoy. Our goal is that the person viewing can walk away with new information and possibly a new way of looking at a historical location, that they perhaps drive by every day and have always been curious to know more about.”
By going virtual, the tours have been able to expand the subjects from central Arkansas to across the state. “Just like those attending the in-person tours, for our historians this was an hour out of their workday so tours generally had to be centered around Little Rock to allow staff to return to their desks,” said Kaufman. “Now, we’re able to expand the reach of our tours. For example, this year we’ll be headed to Hot Springs for our July tour about Green Book properties. This would have been nearly impossible a year and a half ago.”
According to Kaufman, increasing the production value of the virtual tours has meant their staff had to learn some new skills, some even self-taught themselves Adobe Premiere Pro. The tours are generally shot on a Canon 7D with wireless microphones but they also use photos, cell phones, and “just about anything they can think of to bring the stories to life.”
Kaufman said the most important aspect that led to success was the way they were able to pivot quickly to make the tours a production instead of just a fixed camera location, for instance with the focus being on someone standing in front of a group of people speaking. He credited staff with helping the project come to fruition.
As to advice for other entities interested in doing virtual tours, Kaufman said it helps to think about it as an opportunity instead of a challenge.
This year, the Sandwiching in History tours will all be virtual and next year’s lineup potentially will be as well. The public can stay updated via the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program Facebook page at Facebook.com/ARHistoricPreservation or via the calendar of events at the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program website at Arkansasheritage.com/arkansas-preservation.
By Zoie Clift
About Arkansas Tourism
Arkansas Tourism, a division of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, strives to expand the economic impact of travel and tourism in the state and enhance the quality of life for all Arkansans. The division manages 14 Arkansas Welcome Centers and employs more than 60 staff members across The Natural State. For more information, visit www.arkansas.com.