Taste and Tote incentive program expands

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— Walla Walla’s Taste and Tote air travel promotion has taken off and is expanding to other regional communities.

The program that offers savings to wine tourists flying in and out of Walla Walla is not only being extended to Yakima and the Tri-Cities, it’s also being broadened from planes to automobiles.

In a collaborative effort with Alaska Airlines, tourism and business agencies announced plans this morning for a regional expansion of the program with press conferences in Pasco and Yakima.

The program will launch in September. It allows outbound passengers on the airline to check their first case of wine free on their return flights. It also waives tasting fees at participating wineries. As part of a new addition for Walla Walla, where the program originated last November, Enterprise-Rent-A-Car will waive car drop-off fees for those who land in one community, rent one of its vehicles to drive to other wine country communities and fly home from there.

“The objective here for us, both for tourism and the wine industry, is, one, get them here, and two, get them around once they’re here,” said Duane Wollmuth, executive director of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance.

In addition to Alaska Airlines, Tourism Walla Walla and the wine alliance are partnering with the Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau and the Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau.

Though the program is no longer exclusive to Walla Walla, Wollmuth said he doesn’t believe the community will lose any traffic to other communities offering the same thing. If anything, he believes Walla Walla may be able to capture some additional traffic because of the vehicle rental component.

Visitors who might have chosen to fly into one of the other communities for wine tourism could be enticed to drive here because of the additional incentive. That traffic might otherwise not have come at all, he said.

The program is likely to get some additional promotional mileage from the new federal funds designated this week through a U.S. Department of Transportation two-year, $250,000 grant for Walla Walla.

The money, part of a Small Community Air Service Development Program grant, will be used locally on a marketing campaign to help promote the Walla Walla Regional Airport and encourage local travelers to fly out of Walla Walla first when possible. The movement is intended to bolster air service at a time when the airline says it is losing money in the market.

Success will hinge on support from the community, said Michelle Liberty, executive director of Tourism Walla Walla.

Officials said one key is showing travelers the financial benefit to flying locally — same ticket price as flying Alaska from Pasco but without the fuel costs of driving there and without the parking fees. Under the Taste and Tote program it also means saving the $20 charge on the first case of wine, as well as tasting fees at what’s expected to be 125 to 150 wineries from Yakima to Walla Walla, and the Enterprise drop-off fees for those who use that service.

Alaska Airlines Manager of retail advertising and sponsorships Clint Ostler touted the promotion as a sign of the carrier’s commitment to the communities.

“The Taste and Tote program has been a big success in Walla Walla, and we feel our expansion to the Pasco and Yakima airports shows our dedication to being Washington Wine Country’s airline of choice,” he said in a statement. “Washington state’s tourism and wine industries are so closely connected and we are committed to making it easier for travelers to visit our award-winning vineyards.”

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