The tourism and hospitality industry has lived through a two-year nightmare as restaurants, hotels and travel businesses suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Arkansas’ businesses in this sector were hit hard like their peers throughout the country and around the world.
Longtime leadership from the Arkansas Hospitality Association’s executive director, Montine McNulty, helped the industry navigate the crisis as much as possible. During the pandemic, a number of programs helped keep some businesses afloat, although many shuttered their doors. Innovation and adaptation to the circumstances helped some survive, but now labor shortages are slowing recovery as worker attitudes and availability have shifted.
When McNulty stepped down late last year, her replacement, Katie Beck, inherited this industry environment.
Beck most recently served in state government as director of communications and spokesperson for the office of Gov. Asa Hutchinson. She also worked for Gov. Hutchinson from 2016-2019 as liaison to the Arkansas federal delegation, the White House, and federal agencies. She advocated for the state at the federal level on a wide range of issues including trade, healthcare, education and workforce development, environmental protection, and federal funding.
From January 2015 to September 2016, Beck worked as executive assistant to the Governor and economic development liaison to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and business community.
Beck earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and history from the University of Arkansas, Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, and a law degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, William H. Bowen School of Law.
Talk Business & Politics Editor-in-Chief Roby Brock discussed her new role in this executive Q&A.
TB&P: You come into an organization led by a longtime leader, Montine McNulty. What has the transition been like and how do you plan to follow a living legend?
Katie Beck: It was a very smooth transition. As so many know, Montine is an absolute professional. I am grateful for her dedication to the association and willingness to share 25 years of knowledge as I started in this role.
TB&P: The hospitality industry has been a huge part of the last decade of growth in Arkansas. The pandemic was perhaps hardest on this industry above all others. Where do you sense hospitality is now in terms of recovery?
Beck: As the state’s second largest industry, hospitality is an indispensable part of Arkansas’ economy. The economic impact of the pandemic on every sector of the industry highlighted its importance in the state. Throughout the pandemic, the industry exhibited an incredible ability to pivot and effectively respond. That resilience continues as the focus shifts to recovery and the future. The industry is positioned to come back stronger and better than ever before, and it’s an exciting time to be a part of hospitality in Arkansas.
TB&P: What strengths do you think led the AHA to select you as its new leader?
Beck: I am incredibly honored the association selected me to lead the organization. One of my main strengths in coming into this role is my background in state government. My experience as director of state-federal relations for Governor Hutchinson in Washington, D.C., and most recently as his communications director and spokesperson, will enhance my ability to represent AHA at the state and federal levels.
TB&P: Do you plan to start any new initiatives? Where do you think you will focus first?
Beck: My focus will always be on issues that matter to our members and the hospitality industry. As the umbrella organization for the restaurant, lodging and tourism industries, the association has a robust and diverse membership throughout the state. I think in-person interaction is a key component of the entire hospitality industry, and one of my top priorities is to meet with and understand the needs of our members in every region of the state. Membership is critical to the success of any organization and growing our membership statewide will only enhance the association’s efforts to protect, support and promote Arkansas hospitality.
TB&P: How important is this industry to bringing people together, which we need more of and haven’t had enough of in last two years?
Beck: A unique characteristic about the hospitality industry is that it can truly impact the overall mood of a country and the happiness of its citizens. The past two years have made that abundantly clear. There’s no other industry that can provide something as simple as an outlet to erase a bad day by meeting friends for dinner or give someone that perfect weekend getaway or much-needed visit to a state park to return refreshed and optimistic. There’s an infectious joy inherent within every facet of the hospitality industry, and its ability to positively impact a person’s mental state and outlook on life that can’t be minimized.