Aug 16, 2021 - COVID
Bentonville tourism saw a bump before Delta downturn
Crowds getting ready for First Friday at the downtown Bentonville square.
Crowds getting ready for First Friday at the downtown Bentonville square. Photo: Alex Golden/Axios

Editor's note: This is the last in a four-part series looking at the state of tourism in NWA's four largest cities as they emerge from the pandemic.

Visit Bentonville, the city's advertising and promotion organization, had been on track to beat its budgeted revenue, but the Delta variant is making some tourists skittish, Kalene Griffith, CEO of the organization, told Axios.

Why it matters: The city collects a 2% hotel/motel tax and a 1% tax on prepared foods and nonalcoholic beverages to fund advertising and promotion efforts that drive tourism.

  • Art tourism and cycling are Bentonville's largest draws, followed by traveling team sports like softball, baseball, soccer and basketball.

State of play: Bentonville's total tourism tax collections were down 30% in 2020 ($1.9 million) from 2019 ($2.8 million).

  • Most of the dip was due to the hotel/motel tax decline, which fell 54% from nearly $1.1 million in 2019 to $483,000 in 2020.
  • Overall revenue from prepared food sales was down 16% from $1.8 million in 2019 to $1.5 million in 2020.

Collections for January through May of 2021 were a little over $1 million, on track to reach the budgeted goal of $2.1 million, Griffith said.

  • She'd hoped to collect as much as $2.5 million earlier in the year, but some groups are canceling events due to the regional rise in Delta variant cases.
Data: Visit Bentonville; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Details: Tourism taxes collected go to pay for Visit Bentonville operations, advertising and promotions, tourism-like projects for the city's parks and facilities and wayfinding signage that promotes points of interest.

  • The parks and facilities projects — Visit Bentonville helped pay for new scoreboards and turf at Memorial Park, for example — increase the marketability of the city, Griffith said.

Flashback: Visit Bentonville cut its 2020 budget by about $1 million through reductions in print advertising, skipping trade shows and cutting nearly $400,000 in wayfinding projects.

What they're saying: Carl Garrett, owner of Table Mesa Bistro, Tavola Trattoria and Table at the Station, told Axios his business was down about 50% in 2020 from 2019, and he had to modify business models so he could offer more carryout while dining rooms were closed.

  • Loyal, local customers were supportive and helped him stay open.
  • So far, 2021 is looking better than 2019, but news related to the Delta variant seems to be slowing things down a bit in August, Garrett said.

The bottom line: The optimism many had about tourism, dining and hotel stays in early summer has been tempered by the surge in COVID-19 cases during the past month.

  • But the business community in Bentonville has done a great job bonding together over challenges from the pandemic, Griffith said.

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