Walla Walla lodgings on track for record year

The number of rooms sold in August would have nearly maxed out the area just a few years earlier.

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WALLA WALLA -- Visitor activity was so hot through the summer that Walla Walla is on track for a record-breaking year for room sales, Tourism Walla Walla officials said.

The number of room nights sold in August was so high that if the same number of people had come to the community when Tourism Walla Walla was established in 2005, local hotels and lodging establishments would have had virtually 100 percent occupancy, said Tourism Walla Walla Chief Executive Officer Michael Davidson.

He said the community continues to be a tourism anomaly, leading the state in percentage growth in occupancy, average room rates and revenue from rooms. Though the nation's economic woes continue, Walla Walla's tourism numbers this year appear to be aligned with the 2008 pre-recession levels, Davidson said.

"It always has to be understood that this really is a unique destination in Washington state," he said.

"Walla Walla is an enigma (as far as) what's going on in the state."

During August, 19,457 room nights were sold in the Valley's hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts for an occupancy rate of 71.7 percent. That figure is nearly the same as the number of rooms available in 2005 when the supply for the month was 19,499. The difference is the addition of The Hampton Inn, Comfort Inn and Suites and numerous bed-and-breakfasts represents almost 40 percent growth in rooms, he said.

For perspective: The number of room nights sold in August 2005 was 14,116. At the time, that figure represented 17 percent growth from the year before that.

August's numbers continued a trend that had started in February but really kicked up in June when occupancy was 71.3 percent. That was followed by a 70.4 percent occupancy rate in July, Davidson said.

So far this year, 121,387 rooms have been sold. That's a 13.9 percent increase from last year. The increased sales have resulted in more revenue. Year-to-date, total lodging revenue is $11.68 million, compared to $9.74 million at the same point in 2010.

Davidson said he is hopeful the trend will continue despite the entrance into the slower tourism season. He said two major wine weekends -- Fall Release and the Holiday Barrel Tasting event -- are still ahead, as well as numerous conferences expected to bring visitors to the community.

He said Walla Walla may also get a boost from the Tourism Promotional Area, a lodging group that collects a room tax specifically for tourism promotions. Davidson said that group is planning a marketing initiative for November through March.

The initiative will continue to keep the Walla Walla name and brand alive through what is considered a slower time of year for travel. Efforts such as that and the constant promotion from wineries to their club members and other Walla Walla destinations are part of the reason Walla Walla has seen an influx of visitors.

It helps, too, Davidson said that the community garnered attention from Rand McNally and USA Today when it was named the friendliest small town in America last summer. He said Tourism Walla Walla has done its part to spread the word through social media on all that the community has to offer in wine, food and entertainment.

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

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