Staying in Touch with Partners in Bentonville

By Gabriel Seder, Senior Director of Advocacy Policy and Program Development, Destinations International Foundation

As destination organizations navigate uncharted waters through the COVID-19 crisis, the need for clear and effective communication with stakeholders has never been more important. Our research indicates that from the beginning of March, destination organizations have focused their efforts on being a trusted conduit of information for stakeholders including travelers, residents, meeting planners, partners, members, and staff. In times of crisis, both residents and travelers look to destination organizations for news, information and guidance on their community.

In Bentonville, Arkansas, Kalene Griffith has made it a priority for her organization to lead the travel and tourism industry through the crisis and act as a catalyst to bring together community leaders and industry stakeholders. As CEO of Visit Bentonville, Griffith is able to do this though a concerted effort to engage and communicate with a wide swath of stakeholders.

For Griffith and her communications team, each Monday and Friday starts with an hour-long conference call with about 30 stakeholders from the community, including public services, health officials, political leaders, and industry representatives. The call is an opportunity to make sure that the needs of the industry are represented, and to coordinate cross-disciplinary responses to the crisis at the community level.

Twice a week, Bentonville participates in a conference call with the state CVB association and representatives of destination organizations from across Arkansas. The calls allow them to share updates from their communities, compare strategies, establish best practices, and coordinate state-level interventions to address the crisis.

Each Friday, Griffith organizes a conference call for hoteliers in Bentonville. This is an opportunity to track occupancy levels and sales trends in the community, for the industry to articulate any pressing needs, and for the destination organization to share any guidance on how the hospitality sector should be responding. These calls were particularly valuable as the industry and other partners have interpreted and navigated the Governor’s stay-at-home order and other guidance from health officials.

Griffith and her team make an effort to connect with Bentonville’s service industry on a weekly basis. She and her team split up 250 restaurants in the town and call each restaurant once a week to check in and keep tabs on which are operating at what services they are offering.

In addition, Bentonville is using its website to share all available information with community stakeholders. They have built out portals for residents with updates on operating statuses for local businesses as well as community resources for residents affected by the virus, and they are tracking resources available for the business community with information about federal relief efforts as well as local resources.