Walla Walla on the road to a win in food competition

The city’s food scene has made it a finalist in Rand McNally’s Best of the Road contest.

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Judges in Rand McNally’s annual Best of the Road contest will get another taste of Walla Walla’s food scene.

For the second consecutive year, the community has been named a finalist in the competition that puts small towns across the country on the map.

“It’s great news for our wonderful community,” Tourism Walla Walla Executive Director Ron Peck said.

Walla Walla already won one title in the six-category competition. In 2011, the community was named Friendliest Small Town. It followed that last year as a finalist in the Best Small Town for Food category, which ultimately was won by Santa Fe, N.M.

Finalists for the 2013 contest were announced Thursday in a Rand McNally blog.

In the coming weeks the 30 communities vying to win their categories must demonstrate to a panel of judges why they deserve to win. The prize for each winning town is a feature in the 2015 Rand McNally Road Atlas and a free custom iPhone app and online travel guide promoting the town as a top destination.

The awareness and exposure continues to build Walla Walla’s profile as a visitor destination, Peck said. The results are nearly incalculable.

“When you have good exposure it expands your reach beyond what you can do with your advertising dollars,” he explained.

Tourism Walla Walla’s marketing money is largely targeted to Portland, Seattle, Yakima, Pasco and Spokane. Although it’s difficult to know how many visitors have been led here because of exposure from the Best of the Road contests, Peck said the community continues to receive visitors from around the nation.

He said his agency will once again partner with organizations such as the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce and Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance to devise a strategy for the contest.

Walla Walla received the second highest number of nominations in the category with 1,349. That was just 14 votes behind San Mateo, Calif. Others in the category: Roseville, Minn. (387 votes); Galesburg, Ill. (291 votes); and Charlottesville, Va. (168 votes).

One difference in this year’s competition is that it has transferred to an all-digital format, which means judges won’t be actually visiting the community as they have in the past.

For the Food category, that’s a particular hiccup.

Peck said the virtues of Walla Walla’s culinary universe will need to be depicted in either a video or a pictorial tour. Tourism officials are leaning on the latter, which they believe will help showcase the diversity of Walla Walla’s food culture.

The restaurants and renowned chefs in the community’s wine country are one component, Peck said. But the agricultural side is another. Combined, the result is a one-of-a-kind culinary scene.

“People talk about a farm-to-table experience, and we actually have that,” he said.

Tourism Walla Walla is engaging its stakeholders by asking for photo submissions that showcase the Valley’s dining, culinary, agricultural and related assets. Submissions can be made to bcommare@wallawalla.org until Sept. 25. They’re also asking people to share their food-related photos, experiences, favorites and stories via social media at Tourism’s Facebook page, Visit Walla Walla, and on Twitter.

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

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