The tourism industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Creativity has helped many industry members weather the storm and succeed during this difficult time.
Some new ideas were born of the pandemic, while others were adapted to help businesses and life carry on, safely, as much as possible. Not all of these changes will be abandoned when the crisis is over. Some were so successful they are here to stay.
Here is a list of some of the successes the tourism industry has come up with over the last year.
— Eureka Springs, known for its many festivals, events and parades, held a reverse parade for Christmas. Instead of people crowding the street to watch floats go by, leaders turned the event into a “Twist in Tradition, Giving Back” drive-by, stationary Christmas parade. Floats and displays were spread around town at various locations for individuals to visit. Additionally, musicians played in a number of natural spring locations in town. The response was great, and money for more than 10 different area charities was raised. Festival planners may add it to the normal Christmas parade weekend next year as a second night event.
— At the 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa and the 1905 Basin Park Hotel, both in Eureka Springs, management felt from the beginning of the pandemic that a focus on safety protocols would equal more travel. It established strict protocols, spaced people out on its premises, extended hours and rolled with the punches. With the lack of group travel during COVID-19, it took meeting rooms and created game rooms to be able to spread out gatherings. Management also developed aggressive resort programming with reservation and single party usage with a focus on the outdoors and outdoor activity.
— The catering company Noble Graze in Fayetteville is known for its outstanding charcuterie trays. It began serving Jarcuterie, individual “boards” in a jar during the pandemic to keep people safe from sharing food and utensils. It received some national media attention for its creations.
— The Museum of Native American History in Bentonville took to online platforms to stay relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff adapted by creating an online gift shop, virtual tours and programming. Online platforms have given the museum a wider reach to schools through virtual presentations. “We’ve needed to do the online gift shop for a long time,” says Charlotte Buchannan-Yale, director of MONAH. “We have a small staff so it’s a slow process, but every day we add to it and it’s really starting to get responses now.”
MONAH also produced a hybrid exhibit with Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, also in Bentonville. Additionally, the museum is engaging with the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville for a series called “Indiginuity.” “[COVID’s] really kicked us into creative mode,” Buchannan-Yale adds. “The last 10 months has helped us lay a permanent foundation that will continue into the future with hybrid programming and educational opportunities.”
— Beth Bobbitt of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and The Momentary says, “I think one of the most wonderful silver linings for the museum has been the way we’ve mobilized alongside our community partners to address the pandemic-related needs in our region. In total, more than 85,700 food, personal care, and art kits and boxes were distributed in 2020 to schools, individuals, and community organizations across Northwest Arkansas.”
— Just after the shutdown, the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville launched “heARTs to homes,” a free weekly webcast with the goal of creating an arts night in for families by showcasing local artists and arts organizations and supporting local restaurants. Over the last 10 weeks more than 30 local artists and arts organizations, four national artists and 30 restaurants were featured as part of heARTs to homes. heARTs to homes episodes averaged 1,200 unique views a week during its 48-hour viewing window. That is equivalent to a sold out performance in Walton Arts Center’s Baum Walker Hall.
— 2020 was the first season with the expanded renovations to Walmart AMP. The AMP did a small preview of the new spaces to media and sponsors and to the public via social media in August, but wanted to find other ways for people to get to see the space and support local musicians. In September, it started AMP Happy Hours on the new Choctaw Plaza with free live music in a socially distanced space (15,000 square feet) with a bar and full menu. The AMP offered happy hours through Oct. 30 and more than 4,000 people attended throughout the run with an average of more than 200 people a night.
— The Amazeum in Bentonville continues to engage with its guests through the channels created when the museum was temporarily closed between March and July. The number of virtual visits is growing for school groups. Amazeum opened a new experience recently in its Traveling Exhibits Gallery that elevates block playing to an art form. Creativity Cubed: Think Outside the Blocks is a curated collection of 16,000 blocks. The experience is designed for playful exploration of creativity by all ages using the block as the medium.
— The Natural State, Natural Art mural project in Harrison continued during the pandemic with the approval of three additional murals in the downtown. The city’s newest murals were approved in 2020 despite the impact of COVID on the offices: https://exploreharrison.com/pages/attractions/natural-state-natural-art-mural-tour/.
— In Fayetteville, TheatreSquared’s pioneering streaming work has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, NPR’s All Things Considered — and the list goes on. More than 10,000 students have joined the theatre company for virtual educational programming. For the streaming performances, thousands of audience members have not only joined TheatreSquared from throughout Northwest Arkansas—but also from 17 countries and 47 states.
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.
By Jill Rohrbach