New Fort Smith tourism boss after a ‘whole culture vibe’

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 1,248 views 

Ashleigh Bachert, the new executive director of Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau, addresses the crowd gathered Thursday for her reception at the U.S. Marshals Museum.

Ashleigh Bachert likes the Arkansas River. It’s a “phenomenal” tourism asset to build on, she says. The new executive director of Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) also is focused on the metro food scene and helping build a larger cultural “vibe.”

The Fort Smith Advertising & Promotion Commission on Thursday (Sept. 28) held a reception at the U.S. Marshals Museum for Bachert, who has been in the job for about two weeks.

Bachert, 40, will lead a staff of four charged with marketing Fort Smith as a business, leisure and convention destination. The CVB also operates Miss Laura’s Visitor Center, located at 2 N. B St. in Fort Smith. Her base salary will be $132,000.

The CVB collected $1.13 million in hospitality tax revenue in 2022, up 18% compared with the previous year. The revenue comes from a 3% lodging tax. Fort Smith is also the principal city in Sebastian county, which generated $987,536 in 2022 from Arkansas’ 2% tourism tax. The 2022 tally was up 19.7% compared with 2021 revenue.

Bachert was previously the vice president of operations for Tulsa Regional Tourism, a position she held since August 2022. In this role, she directed the organization’s data and sales teams. She has been with Tulsa Regional Tourism since 2020. Prior to her tenure in Tulsa, Bachert worked in tourism-related leadership positions in Durham and Jacksonville-Onslow, N.C.

Bachert told Talk Business & Politics that her first few days have been spent getting to better know the community and its people. She said anyone in her job needs a city or region to be welcoming, to have “a good strong ambassador base, and Fort Smith has got it.”

Ashleigh Bachert, executive director of the Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau

The North Carolina native also says she’s been impressed with area restaurants, which is part of her tourism promotion focus.

“I love the food scene here. And when you talk about things we need to do and capitalize on, we need to talk more about our food scene. And we need to talk more about breweries and wineries and the whiskey distillery that’s going in out (at Chaffee Crossing). People, they want more than just a place to lay their head and something to go see. They want a whole culture vibe. And that’s really where we need to be shifting our focus,” Bachert said.

Monte Cervino Beverage of Colorado Springs, Colo., has acquired buildings at Chaffee Crossing for a winery, cidery and coffee roasting business. Axe and Oak, also based in Colorado Springs, previously announced plans to build a whiskey distillery at Chaffee Crossing.

Part of the culture vibe focus also is creating “destinations” for those who live in the city and metro area. Part of that is looking at underutilized facilities and assets, she said.

“How can we help redevelop what we already have into something new that is attractive?” Bachert explained.

She also said efforts to improve the region as a destination helps support the economic development efforts of other organizations, adding that one never knows when a top business decision maker visits the area for non-business reasons.

“Visitation is the front door to economic development,” she said. “We really are the front porch to it all.”