When it comes to tourism, Walla Walla and Alaska may have more similarities than you think, the incoming executive director of Tourism Walla Walla said Thursday.
Both are known for their gorgeous natural areas and outdoor recreation. Both leave visitors with a sense of community that drives return trips. And with their busy months at capacity, both are examining how to build off-season tourism.
The difference, Ron Peck told a crowd Thursday at Tourism Walla Walla’s annual meeting, is that Mother Nature is in Walla Walla’s favor.
“We try to convince folks to come (to Alaska) when it’s 20 below and five hours of daylight,” Peck quipped.
Nevertheless, the state last year had 1.6 million visitors between May and September, but only 250,000 total during the other seven months.
Peck, who led tourism for the Alaska Travel Industry Association for more than 10 years, will leave the “The Last Frontier” state for Walla Walla, where he begins the top administrative job for Tourism Walla Walla on March 18.
Operationally, the two organizations couldn’t be farther apart — either in location or size. Alaska’s budget for marketing from the state last year was $16 million. Tourism Walla Walla’s budget for 2013 is just over $600,000.
Peck had resigned from his position with Alaska tourism last November, saying in Alaska Business Monthly he felt “this was a good time to look for my next challenge.”
Peck is no stranger to Eastern Washington. A King County native he spent some time in Pullman before his family moved to Alaska when he was in high school, he told a crowd of hoteliers and representatives of the wine, art, downtown and other areas in the first ever group meeting at Columbia Rural Electric Association’s new Walla Walla headquarters.
Thursday’s event marked his third ever trip to the community. But he said he’s picked up on a similar trend from the last community he worked.
“In Alaska people visit for three reasons: glaciers, mountains and wildlife. But they come back because of the people,” he said. “We’ve had a similar kind of experience in terms of what Walla Walla is about.”
Peck will succeed Michelle Liberty, who resigned her post last October. In the months since, board member Michele Rennie has served as interim director. Opening Thursday’s meeting, Rennie provided an overview of the board’s goals for 2013.
Off-season promotions to build visitor numbers is chief among them. Ideas include February is for Foodies, which is currently taking place. The focus on cooking demonstrations and special pricing at local restaurants is designed to draw visitors through their tastebuds. An “Adult Spring Break” is slated for March with a focus on sophisticated getaways for grownups.
Other concepts include building Sunday through Thursday visits by targeting retirees, wine enthusiasts, small groups such as birdwatching, cyclist, pilots and golfers, and business organizations and small conventions up to 300 people.
In 2012 Tourism Walla Walla made several major changes, including a partnership with a new marketing and public relations firm, DVA Advertising & Public Relations of Bend. It also completed a $30,000 revamp of its website. Furthermore the organization retired the “Walla Walla, Surprise Surprise” brand, replacing it with “Share Walla Walla.”
For the new year, the organization will pick up fundraising efforts for the third phase of a regional signage project designed to revamp signs throughout the Valley in a partnership with other local agencies. It will also work to build year-round marketing through contributions from the Tourism Promotion Agency funding created through the Hotel and Motel Commission.
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8321.