Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance head on new state tourism board

The nonprofit was started after the closure of the state tourism office.

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The executive director of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance will represent the Valley on the state's new official tourism marketing organization, officials announced this week.

Duane Wollmuth was named to the Washington Tourism Alliance's charter board of directors.

The nonprofit alliance was formed in March in anticipation of the closure of the Washington State Tourism office. It closed at the end of June because of state budget cuts.

The switchover moves state tourism promotion from the government sector to the direction of tourism stakeholders, including representatives of key industry segments such as lodging, destination marketing, attractions, restaurants and transportation.

Along with the board members, the identity of the organization's new executive director was announced Tuesday. Suzanne Fletcher, who most recently worked in marketing for Concur Technologies in Redmond, Wash., will run the alliance. A 30-year travel and tourism industry veteran, Fletcher was named by Forbes magazine as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in the Travel Industry for 2008.

Fletcher's position and the terms of the board members begin Aug. 1.

Wollmuth had served on the state Tourism Commission the past three years. He also served on the commission's predecessor, the Washington State Tourism Advisory Committee, for five years before that.

The first meeting for the alliance will take place in mid-August. Officers, committees and structural elements will be put into place then, according to the announcement.

The organization, formed through financial contributions from founding partners, has already assumed ownership and operation of tourism office assets for the preservations of Washington's tourism market share, officials said. That includes state tourism photo and video libraries and customer and client databases. Starting Jan. 1 it will also include the state tourism website -- www.experiencewa.com .

The alliance has also already agreed to continue a partnership with Portland-based Dean Runyan Associates, which had previously provided analysis and reports on Washington's tourism impacts for the state.

Tourism Walla Walla Executive Director Michael Davidson said last month the local promotional agency has already joined on as a member for the next three years.

He said the dissolution of the state tourism office and the start of the new organization is a step in the right direction for tourism promotion because it puts the decision-making in the hands of those in the industry, rather than politicians.

Nevertheless, neither model affects the decision-making process for tourism promotions at the local level, Davidson said. Walla Walla's tourism promotions -- funded from a local lodging tax for guests -- are determined by a local board of directors.

Davidson said the benefits of involvement with the state organization include representation from the state at major trade shows and other events. "It's a marketing arm that creates and awareness of Washington that allows us to then piggy-back on and get the Walla Walla message out," he said.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

On the board

The Washington Tourism Alliance charter board of directors includes:

David Bauemeister, Northwest Agriculture Business Center

Tammy Blount, Tacoma Regional Convention + Visitor Bureau

John Bookwalter, Bookwalter Winery

Darrell Bryan, Clipper Vacations

Donna Cappa, Tulalip Resort Casino

John Cedergreen, Ancient Lakes Brewing Company

Kevin Clark, Argosy Cruises

John Cooper, Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau

Frank Finneran, Frank K. Finneran & Co.

Jane Kilburn, Port of Seattle

Cheryl Kilday, Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau

Dan Moore, EverGreen Escapes

Andy Olsen, Columbia Hospitality

Christina Pivarnik, City of Port Townsend/CP Communications

George Schweitzer, Red Lion Hotels

Diane Schostak, Olympic Peninsula Visitors Bureau

Karen Stebbins, Ski Washington/Northwest Winter Sports Foundation

Brett Wilkerson, North Pacific Management

Duane Wollmuth, Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance

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