Tourism Walla Walla's effort to stay fresh is welcome

Hiring a consultant to look at the Valley's signs from a visitor's perspective was a wise move.

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The Walla Walla Valley has become a successful tourist destination.

However, being a tourism destination has a finite shelf life. It needs to be kept fresh.

Folks who live in the Valley -- many of whom directly benefit from the dollars tourism generates -- should be pleased with Tourism Walla Walla's proactive approach. For example, 10 local private and public entities got together to hire a Pennsylvania firm to look at how tourists find Walla Walla -- literally.

The company, MERJE, found navigation for a newcomer to the Valley was difficult as the signs are inconsistent.

In a preliminary report of his findings, consultant John Bosio of MERJE told those attending the annual Tourism Walla Walla meeting earlier this month that a successful sign system should guide people from one location to another and convey a sense of place.

Bosio said this community has plenty of signs, but it doesn't have a sign system -- a cohesive system that reaches from Dayton to Milton-Freewater. Ultimately, he said, this would provide a seamless journey from one community to the next as tourists visited the Walla Walla Valley.

"This is not just a sign project. It's about the experience people have when they come to Walla Walla," he told a crowd of about 50 government and tourism representatives attending the annual meeting. "The more people can find their way easily the more they'll want to come back."

Bosio, who was here in December with MERJE officials, spent several days exploring the community and meeting with various groups and winery operators to determine needs and desires for signage.

The good news for the Valley, Bosio said, is the community is already one step ahead by having a distinct character.

"Sometimes we do projects where the community is kind of generic," he said. "Here there's a certain vibe. There's a certain sophistication."

A final report on the $30,000 study is expected next month. How and when action will be taken on that report hasn't been determined.

It could take years for this study to come to fruition, but making the effort to chart a path for making tourism even more successful is, in itself, taking action.

Tourism Walla Walla along with its partners in this project -- the cities of Walla Walla, College Place and Milton-Freewater, the ports of Walla Walla and Columbia, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Walla Walla Foundation -- are taking the proper approach to keeping tourism fresh.

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