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Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 4
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Economics students team up with Tourism Walla Walla

Economics students team up with Tourism Walla Walla | AxelrodLast spring, economics Professor Karl Storchmann and his Wine Economics class conducted a major survey on the spending habits of people at two major Walla Walla events. Part I of the survey focused on residents of Walla Walla and tourists that attended Feast Walla Walla. Part II of the survey studied residents and tourists at the Tour of Walla Walla. Downtown Walla Walla and Tourism Walla Walla, two local organizations dedicated to improving consumers’ experiences in Walla Walla, sponsored the survey. Results of both parts of the survey were recently released.

Michael Davidson, the president and C.E.O. of Tourism Walla Walla, approached Storchmann to conduct the survey. The two met early last year when Storchmann presented research to Tourism Walla Walla. Storchmann researched the correlation between the wine industry and tourism in Walla Walla. Davidson, together with Elio Agostini, the executive director of Downtown Walla Walla, thought Storchmann was the perfect candidate to conduct the survey.

“He was obviously interested in his research,” said Davidson. “We thought it would be a great opportunity to tie the college to the community.”

Davidson and Agostini met with Storchmann’s senior-heavy class last January to discuss the details of the project. Each of the 12 students received a $140 stipend for creating and conducting the survey. Storchmann also received a stipend. The class created the survey together and submitted it to Davidson and Agostini for approval. In April, when the Tour of Walla Walla and Feast Walla Walla occurred, Storchmann split the class in half and sent one group to each of the events.

Part I of the survey studied the attendants of Feast Walla Walla. The first annual Feast Walla Walla took place on Apr. 12, 2008, along 1st Avenue in downtown Walla Walla. Tickets cost $45 per person and included ten tokens for wine and food tasting along with a souvenir wine glass. Local wineries and restaurants provided refreshments and artists displayed their work. Wine was available for purchase.

Part II of the survey studied the spectators at the Tour of Walla Walla.   The Tour of Walla Walla is an annual bike tour that spans the course of three days. The four-part race starts in Waitsburg and ends along Main Street in Walla Walla. Alex Robinson, currently a senior at Whitman, conducted surveys at the tour last spring.

“I positioned myself outside of Starbucks at the Tour of Walla Walla…so that [visitors] could sit down with the survey,” she said via e-mail. “It worked, but our results ended up being biased towards coffee-drinkers.”

Tourism Walla Walla and Downtown Walla Walla, the two organizations that sponsored the survey, have different target audiences. Thus, surveys for both events studied the behavior of Walla Walla residents along with the behavior of tourists to Walla Walla. At both events, each group received different surveys.

The survey for residents focused mostly on consumer activities within Walla Walla. Those surveyed described their spending habits in Walla Walla and specified factors that prevent them from shopping downtown. Surveyed residents also indicated when they shop downtown: during what time of the day and on what days of the week. Downtown Walla Walla, commissioned to improve the downtown area for residents, will use the research to mold the downtown to residents’ needs.

Both surveys asked about annual household income, “a question that’s crucial to the survey,” noted Storchmann. Unfortunately, the sensitive nature of the topic deterred some people from answering the question. Surveys for tourists and residents alike requested basic information about the participants, such as age and sex. This information was used to determine the demographics of visitors to both events.

The survey for visitors to Walla Walla focused on transportation to Walla Walla and overnight accommodations. The latter is of especial interest to Davidson. Tourism Walla Walla receives its funding from a room tax on local hotels.

“We have 290,000 hotel nights to sell annually,” Davidson explained. “You use it or you lose it.”

Another aspect of the survey concentrated on spending habits while visiting Walla Walla: where tourists spend money, what they spend money on and which restaurants they visit. The last part of the survey asked visitors to specify how often they visit Walla Walla and how they heard about the respective events (the Tour of Walla Walla and Feast Walla Walla). Tourism Walla Walla, whose main goal is to bring visitors to Walla Walla, will use the results of the tourists’ surveys to improve its advertising strategy.
The results of the surveys were not surprising. Storchmann “expected that visitors to Feast Walla Walla would be from Seattle, Boise and parts of Washington, stay between two and four days and spend a lot of money.” His predictions were correct. The average age of visitors at the Feast was 48.7 years and the average age of Walla Walla residents at the Feast was 45.3 years. In contrast, the average age of visitors at the Tour of Walla Walla was 37.5 for tourists and 37.6 for residents.

Spectators at Feast Walla Walla were substantially wealthier than spectators at the Tour of Walla Walla. Furthermore, tourists in Walla Walla for the event had a higher annual household income than did locals attending the event. The average income for Walla Walla residents watching the Tour was $62,100 and the average income for tourists was $98,200. Walla Walla locals enjoying Feast Walla Walla earned on average $84,100, whereas tourists at the Feast earned an average annual income of $129,000.

At Feast Walla Walla, 40.66 percent of the parties were from Walla Walla and 59.34 percent were from out of town. At the Tour of Walla Walla, on the other hand, 56.38 percent consisted of Walla Walla residents and 43.62 percent consisted of tourists. The tourists at the Feast dined at fancier restaurants in Walla Walla, like Whitehouse-Crawford, Creektown Café and 26 Brix. Tourists at the Tour preferred less expensive establishments like Starbucks, T. Maccarone’s and Subway.

Storchmann’s class also studied the spending habits of Whitman students. The results of that survey have yet to be released to the public. According to Davidson, though, Tourism Walla Walla always keeps major Whitman events in mind when planning programs.

“When Whitman has events, Whitman families essentially fill the majority of hotels here,” said Davidson. “We discourage local organizations from running events during Whitman weekends because visitors won’t be able to find hotel rooms.”

The partnership between Storchmann’s class and the Walla Walla agencies benefited both sides. Downtown Walla Walla and Tourism Walla Walla received valuable information about their clienteles. The research will help both organizations improve consumers’ visits so that residents and tourists alike spend more money in Walla Walla to boost the local economy. Whitman students were offered a hands-on learning experience that illuminated the subject matter.

“The project as a whole was a great learning experience,” said Robinson. “I learned a lot about the process of administering a survey for this kind of empirical study.”

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