Marketers set for Walla Walla campaign

The goal is to increase hotel occupancy by more than 12.5 percent over 2011.

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WALLA WALLA - Tourism Walla Walla plans to build on the momentum of a banner year with a new marketing plan for 2012.

A partnership with a new advertising and public relations firm is expected to bolster the already busy tourism season and build visits during nonpeak times, too.

DVA Advertising and Public Relations is in the process of developing a new brand for the community. Representatives of the Bend-based firm said Thursday during Tourism Walla Walla's annual meeting they expect it to launch in April.

The marketing promotion will succeed the previous "Walla Walla, Surprise Surprise" campaign in a new media initiative designed to attract more visitors to the community.

For the last six years the area's tourism brand was promoted by Seattle-based Gibson Media, which developed the "Walla Walla, Surprise Surprise" brand. Tourism Walla Walla changed things up last October, when it contracted with DVA for marketing and promotions. Under the direction of Tourism Walla Walla's board of directors, the company will head advertising and marketing efforts to continue building Walla Walla's profile as a leisure destination.

In front of an audience of Tourism Walla Walla stakeholders, business owners and other stakeholders at the Power House Theatre, DVA representatives Justin Yax and Mary Ramos explained the firm's goals and strategies for Walla Walla's tourism industry.

In short, the mission is growth. More specifically, DVA hopes to increase occupancy over 2011 by more than 12.5 percent and room revenue during the same period by more than 17.7 percent. Doing so should also help to achieve several other goals, including increasing revenue in stakeholder businesses, as well as tax revenue for the city. They want to develop a year-round marketing plan, increase online and social media presence, leverage and/or create key events that attract visitors to Walla Walla and more.

They plan to spread the word through press release distribution to national and regional media, advertisements, the website, social media and direct marketing. Nearly $300,000 has been budgeted for advertising. That money comes not only from Tourism Walla Walla, but also from the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, Powerhouse Theatre and other organizations whose events will be promoted.

The change in marketing firms ends a momentous year that saw growth in tourism, the undertaking of a new regional signage initiative, national recognition as the Friendliest Small Town in America from USA Today and Rand McNally, and the departure of the agency's first executive director, Michael Davidson.

"This is a very exciting time for Tourism Walla Walla," said outgoing board President Michele Renie.

She said the agency has received about 20 rsums so far for the executive director position. The listing will remain open through January, she said.

The transition for the agency comes on the heels of a successful year. Back to pre-recession levels, visits to the Valley grew in 2011. Though December numbers are still being gathered, room revenue and occupancy through November 2011 was up over 2010. Room revenue jumped from $13.92 million in 2010 to $16.24 million by November of last year.

Traffic on the agency's website and Facebook pages also skyrocketed, and tourism officials recorded a more than 100 percent increase in demand at the Destination Walla Walla window.

"Certainly our goal is to keep it going this year," Renie said.

DVA officials hope to build traffic through visits during typically slower times of the year.

Those active on Facebook may already have seen a sneak peek of the agency's work. At the same time the company has been developing its new brand for Walla Walla, it simultaneously launched an "off-season" marketing campaign intended to build tourism through the traditionally slower months of November through March.

This took place through the "Experience Walla Walla" Facebook page. That page is a promotional destination featuring winemakers, chefs, community events and more under the tagline: "See Walla Walla from a different perspective: Ours." As part of the effort to build interest, DVA has given away trips to Walla Walla for those who opt to participate.

The hope is to streamline all efforts for a visible campaign that builds awareness of Walla Walla among multiple platforms. There are two key demographics: wine enthusiasts between 45 and 64 with no children or empty nests and high incomes; and younger professionals between 25 and 34 who are educated and have disposable income and likely no children. The focus is on drive markets including Seattle, Portland, Yakima, Tri-Cities, Spokane and Boise.

"I think what we're going to see is a very united message of Walla Walla," Renie said.

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

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