Icon (Close Menu)


Visit Bentonville Focused on Niche Markets, Says CEO Kalene Griffith

4 min read

Kalene Griffith is CEO of Visit Bentonville, which she has led since August 2005. She grew up in Dodge City, Kansas, and attended Kansas State University, later working at Walt Disney World, the Dodge City Chamber of Commerce and a special events company in Fort Myers, Florida. Before coming to Bentonville, she was executive director of the YMCA in Callaway County in Fulton, Missouri. In 2022, she was named the Arkansas Tourism Person of the Year.

You’ve been president and CEO for more than 17 years, a time of great growth in northwest Arkansas. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen?

Our biggest change has been growth in both population and experience. In 2005, our town was known only as a business destination. We were a true pass-through town, with visitors stopping to see the Walmart Museum and then moving on. We didn’t get a lot of overnight stays. Today, however, our quality of life for both locals and visitors alike has significantly increased as we’ve seen a boom in our cycling, arts, culinary and music scenes. We now see an average of 2.5 nights per visitor.

How many visitors does Bentonville attract per year, and how much bigger could it get?

It’s a bit challenging to give an exact number because in Bentonville, most of our attractions are free to enjoy with no tickets required. In 2022, we saw more than 600,000 visitors to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and over 2.5 million cyclists on our trails. As far as how much bigger we could get, as Visit Bentonville, I can say we’ve seen our lodging tax collections increase annually, which shows the growth in visitors by year over year (excluding 2020 and 2021), and we’re on track to exceed 2022.

What’s the big focus of Visit Bentonville right now?

For our tourist audiences, the trend is off-the-grid, authentic experiences. The Visit Bentonville team is marketing to the arts, cycling, culinary, music and aviation and recruitment of events in these niche markets. Our sales team is looking at future opportunities for hosting holistic medical and wellness meetings and conferences. As an innovative partner to our industry, we are also working on a new initiative to support our hospitality and tourism businesses with the recruitment of a sustainable workforce.

What are the future growth areas for Bentonville amenities?

Our growth opportunities are visible all around town via the many construction projects underway in Bentonville, including the new Walmart Home Office, two new hotels on the Bentonville Square, the Alice L. Walton School of Medicine and the expansion of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, to name a few. We anticipate our number of business and leisure travelers will continue growing, but we expect to see a spike when all of these new experiences open.

What role do local businesses play in promoting Bentonville as a tourist destination?

Our local businesses are key to creating an experience for visitors, and Bentonville is fortunate that hospitality is part of its DNA — our community is welcoming to all. For example, the buy-in and commitment to our growing cycling culture by hotels, restaurants, retailers and attractions is how our community became known as the Mountain Bike Capital of the World.

You are a member of the 40 Under 40 class of 2008. What advice would you give this year’s class?

For me, it boils down to three key things: Find something you love to do, value the knowledge of others, and embrace collaboration.

Does Visit Bentonville work with other local cities on certain projects? How?

Yes, regularly! We are fortunate to have very collaborative leadership in northwest Arkansas. Our easiest and most effective collaboration is with marketing efforts, particularly in the realm of cycling. Most travelers aren’t looking at city limits; they’re focused on experiences. The Oz Brand unites more than 200 miles of biking trails throughout the region, allowing us to collaborate with other local cities and capitalize on this regional brand. For example, we hosted the Outside Magazine Bike Test in 2016 and in 2021, where we were able to partner with Hot Springs one year and Little Rock another. A great way to showcase our region and the state.

With an array of amenities, how do you ensure each gets it due when promoting the city?

We try to put ourselves in the visitors’ shoes and provide a variety of experiences for all. If they are passionate about arts, cycling, outdoors, music or culinary experiences, we can tell that story through our numerous campaigns. We bring in a variety of influencers and storytellers to help share authentic stories and showcase events in those categories. We also showcase our tourism through events and meetings that we host, and that in turn creates opportunities for folks to bring back their family and friends for a leisure trip.

Send this to a friend