Despite Perception, Bentonville Hotel Trade Not All Business

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 143 views 

One Bentonville hotelier said the popular perception that business travelers historically dominate the Bentonville hotel market might be a bit erroneous.

Kevin Kellams, general manager of Comfort Suites just off Walton Boulevard behind Lin’s Garden restaurant, said bookings at his 115-room property are up to 69 percent leisure and 31 percent corporate business.

The percentages are based on surveys sent to random guests each year dating back to 2010, the year before Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened its doors for art lovers throughout the world.

In 2010, Kellams said the leisure/business percentage split at the hotel was 59/41 among a sample size of 507 guests.

Compared to recent guest surveys, that shows an upward shift of leisure travelers at the hotel of about 10 percent.

Kellams, a hotel executive in Northwest Arkansas for 13 years, said the data somewhat refutes the notion that Bentonville was nothing but business travel before Crystal Bridges opened.

He said a higher ratio in favor of the leisure traveler has been consistent before and after the museum’s arrival.

“Our hotel has seen an upward shift in the mix of leisure travelers, much of it due to Crystal Bridges,” he explained. “But I think there has always been a significant leisure travel market that’s flown under the radar.”

Kellams noted that booking during the summer months are generally in the range of 75/25 in terms of percentage in favor of the leisure traveler.

Popular fall events in the area such as Arkansas Razorback football games, Bikes, Blues & BBQ and craft fairs also keep the ratio tilted toward leisure-related bookings.

Kellams also noted a big increase in overall occupancy at his hotel, from 53.2 percent in 2010 to a current level of 65.7 percent, a figure he said would go up after the high-occupancy months of September and October are included.

“I would guess we have increased business travel now due to the slowly improving economy, and increased leisure travelers due mostly to Crystal Bridges,” Kellams said. “But also because of the sports events the Bentonville [Convention and Visitors Bureau] is bringing into the area.”

Kalene Griffith, president and CEO of the Bentonville CVB, said her office began focusing on the sports market in 2006 as a key area of interest to help boost the struggling weekend business at area hotels.

“After one-on-one meetings with the hotels in 2005 when I started, their main concern was weekend business,” she said, noting weekend occupancy numbers at that time were anywhere from 25 percent to 35 percent.

Griffith said through May, there were 34 sporting events hosted in Bentonville to draw potential hotel patrons.

She also noted the city had already eclipsed 70 bus tours so far this year.