Economic impact expected to grow with Bentonville Film Festival, out-of-town visitors to increase

by Nancy Peevy ([email protected]) 242 views 

Act two of the Bentonville Film Festival (BFF) begins Tuesday (May 3) and organizers say the impact on Bentonville’s economy will be far greater than last year’s inaugural event.

Trevor Drinkwater, founder and CEO of ARC Entertainment and co-founder of BFF, said year one resulted in a $1.3 million dollar impact on the area and saw 37,000 people attend the event. This year organizers expect between 50,000 and 100,000 people to attend events over the course of the week (May 3-8), and Drinkwater expects the economic impact to double or triple from last year.

Kalene Griffith, president of Visit Bentonville, said her organization conducted an economic impact study on the 2015 event, focusing solely on Bentonville’s 2,000 hotel rooms and 100 restaurants. Their conclusion was that the economic impact from hotel rooms and restaurants in Bentonville alone was easily $400,000.

“That does not count any dollars or cents that (BFF organizers) invested in the community or that people spent at other retail,” Griffith said.

In May 2015, the month of last year’s inaugural BFF, hotel and restaurant tax revenue was $199,000, which was the second largest month of that year, Griffith said. The year’s highest revenue of $202,000 was in October. She attributed the high number in that month to the local craft fairs, two University of Arkansas home football games and the Slaughter Pen Jam.

Drinkwater said the economic impact comes, not just from added hotel and restaurant revenues, but also from money that organizers spend hiring local businesses to produce different parts of the festival.

For the 2015 BFF, organizers hired companies from other film festivals across the country to come in and help produce the event. Drinkwater said that because of the short time they had to pull BFF together, they needed to bring in partners with strong festival experience, and so much of their money was spent on companies that weren’t from Arkansas.

“We switched pretty dramatically this year where we hired and worked with as many local companies as we could,” he said.

So, an increase in local businesses used for the 2016 BFF will add to the economic impact for this year.

Drinkwater said the festival also works to help local businesses benefit from the number of people coming to the festival, both locals and out-of-towners. Last year organizers said the ratio was about 80% local people and 20% from out of town. Drinkwater said he hopes for a 60/40 ratio this year.  Attendees last year were from as far away as New York and Los Angeles. Many festival-goers drove in from “touch states” like Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Drinkwater said he hopes the number of people driving to the BFF will continue to increase over the next few years.

“We’re the only festival in the world, I think, that’s drivable from a lot of big towns. This year hopefully we’ll have a much bigger contingency drive in,” he said. “Once people realize we’re always the first week in May, we’ll see a pretty impressive increase in people driving in for this.”

Drinkwater said he hopes having thousands of people in town during the festival will benefit the business community in terms of added business that week and in the long term.

Kelli Pinnock, general manager at Table Mesa in downtown Bentonville, estimates their business increased 20% during last year’s festival.

“It meant a great deal to our business,” she said. “It definitely boosted our sales quite a bit as opposed to the prior year.”

Emmanuel Gardinier, general manager of the 21C Hotel in downtown Bentonville, said an added benefit of the BFF is that it gives nationwide exposure to Bentonville, and so the city becomes a destination for people throughout the year.

“The BFF definitely helps put Bentonville on the map. (People) learn about the destination of Bentonville because of the film festival and they start to research it and they discover we have an incredible museum and basically they realize that it’s a great destination – for example if you are in St. Louis and you want to have a nice weekend,” Gardinier said. “So it has put Bentonville in the mind of people who would never have thought of coming to visit us.”

For Leslie Key, owner of The Meteor Guitar Gallery in downtown Bentonville, the BFF is an opportunity to get the attention of music bands and acts from around the country that might come to play at his venue.

“We’ll get a lot more awareness of the local crowd that we’re here and we’ll get a lot more attention on the national level just to let the bigger music acts that are passing through know that there’s a place that they can stop rather than the Amp or Fayetteville,” he said. “We’ve already started getting a lot of national attention on our own, but BFF is going to put us in a whole different category.”

Griffith also sees the BFF bringing in other types of investment to the area. Because of the BFF’s emphasis on the film industry she and others from NWA formed the Northwest Arkansas Film Commission, which is working with Eureka Springs, Rogers, Bentonville, Springdale, Bentonville and Fayetteville to create film development and production opportunities in this area.

“Our job will be to create opportunities to film in NWA,” she said.

Griffith believes the area has only just begun to see the benefits of the BFF.

“We’re fortunate to have this wonderful event that showcases our city and is just a huge economic boost to our businesses,” she said.