Kalene Griffith has headed Visit Bentonville, formerly the Bentonville Convention & Visitors Bureau, since August 2005. Griffith grew up in Dodge City, Kansas, where she played characters from Frosty the Snowman to the Easter Bunny to one of Santa’s elves at the local mall.
After attending Kansas State University, she worked at Walt Disney World, the Dodge City Chamber of Commerce and a special events company in Fort Myers, Florida. Before coming to Bentonville, Griffith was executive director of the YMCA in Callaway County in Fulton, Missouri.
Griffith was a member of Arkansas Business’ 40 Under 40 Class of 2008.
You were a 40U40 recipient in 2008. What have you learned in the past 10 years that you wish you knew then?
To be patient and to embrace change, as change usually leads to progress.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art has made a huge impact, but what else is going on in Bentonville?
In the last 13 years, we have grown from 22,000 to 49,000 in population. The opportunities are boundless for our community and our visitors. We have become what we call a “New American Town.” Bentonville is a small town with a big heart, a place of history and innovative progress, and where a sophisticated spirit meets charming hospitality. Our identity reflects where Bentonville is today and it looks forward to the future.
Our voice is welcoming, friendly and authentic to our small-town roots. It celebrates the unexpected of Bentonville, and inspires business and leisure travelers alike to explore every surprising facet — from craft and cuisine to the arts and cycling. We are a blend of old and new. We have the ingredients to assure the continuing rise of tourism in Bentonville, and we know the recipe to keep that success growing for years to come in our town.
In your tenure at Visit Bentonville, how have your tactics and strategy changed?
Wow, have we changed. Initially, our focus was on the business traveler when I arrived. Within the last eight years we have become a leisure destination with so much more to offer. We have become more diverse and aggressive in our marketing and sales strategies.
What marketing methods seem most important to that promotion?
Two key methods are digital and public relations. Each of these allows us to use data to set our advertising and promotion initiatives as we see instant reward or failure.
We also see a great opportunity for hosting travel writers to our city, as they can tell our story from their perspective. They have a realistic, raw and true experience in our city and they become the storyteller for us.
Bentonville has been on a big bicycle push. Why, and what are the benefits?
First and foremost, it has a huge economic impact. The recent study from the Walton Family Foundation showed $137 million in economic development to northwest Arkansas. Bentonville and northwest Arkansas are becoming a nationally recognized destination for cycling. Our hotels, airbnbs, restaurants and small businesses have seen the impact of cycling visitors, and it is influencing development.
How and where are you promoting the idea of visiting Bentonville?
In the past, we have focused on the touch states or drive market. In the last three years, we have advertised in major cities such as New York, Denver, Los Angeles and Chicago, plus some targeted cycling destination markets such as Utah, Colorado, Montana and California.
If you could have one wish come true for Bentonville, what would it be?
My hope is Bentonville becomes one the top destination for arts, cycling, culinary and film production. Also, our team is focusing on elevating the music scene.