Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 9
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Walla Walla Valley Engages in Next Phase of Rural Tourism Support Program with SWT

The Walla Walla Valley will participate in the next Rural Tourism Support (RTS) program offered by State of Washington Tourism (SWT). 

In addition to overseeing destination marketing and management, the main goals of SWT’s work are to promote Washington to tourists in an ethical manner and to lead the way in statewide destination management and stewardship. Their initiatives, which range from marketing to destination development, help boost employment and revenue in the travel and tourist industry. Underprivileged and rural areas have been spaces of increased interest.

Visit Walla Walla will serve as the lead for Tourism stakeholders in Walla Walla County and surrounding areas. The program uses a community tourism approach to destination development and is facilitated by sustainable tourism. 

Tourism stakeholders within the Walla Walla Valley are tasked with securing matching funds for grant allocations intended to bolster destination development projects linked to the RTS program.

The RTS program provides a special chance for cooperation and coordination between local authorities and those employed in the tourist and outdoor recreation industries.

Establishing a successful vision, studying worldwide and international trends and collaborating to find methods to enhance the guest experience and boost local and regional economies are among the objectives of the program.

Cara Jacobson is Visit Walla Walla’s Marketing Director. She explained what the grant does for Walla Walla. 

“The State of Washington Rural Tourism Support Program is a ‘grant’ awarded to one rural destination each year. Visit Walla Walla applied for and was awarded the grant in 2023, with the program kicking off last summer, and will be wrapping up in the next month or so,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson explained that the goal of this program is to identify three key action projects for community people to take the lead, and those initiatives qualify for a portion of state financing.

“For the Walla Walla Valley, the key goals are to enhance the visitor experience while ensuring those experiences enhance the local tourism economy and positively impact livability for residents,” Jacobson said.

According to Jacobson, over the past several months, the RTS program has successfully united a wide-ranging constituency across the Walla Walla Valley, spanning from Dayton to Milton-Freewater. Representatives hailing from various sectors, including outdoor recreation, arts, culture, lodging, restaurants and wineries, have come together under this initiative.

“Being able to convene these groups for brainstorming and planning was an enormous win for our community — and we look forward to continuing the collaboration with community members to bring the action projects to completion,” Jacobson said. 

Matthew Ozuna ‘10 is the Destination Development Manager with State of Washington Tourism. He explained that development and management programs are well-supported by the government.

Funding for the SWT programs and services are generally received from taxpayers and industry partners. However, there is also some additional funding which is provided by grants and the primary goal of these grants will be to plan and build destinations for rural and underserved communities. 

“Programs like these address issues of seasonality, overcrowding, resident sentiment, environmental impact, economic and workforce development,” Ozuna said in an email to The Wire.

Ozuna explained that the specific objectives, projects for destination development and long-term vision for tourism are subject to variation, contingent upon the region in question and the diverse array of stakeholders engaged in the program.

“The Walla Walla Valley group is transitioning into a new phase of the program which will establish a regional network of tourism stakeholders,” Ozuna said. 

The wine industry is an appeal for tourists looking to visit the Walla Walla Valley, but funding attempts to diversify offerings.

“Areas of focus include arts and culture, outdoor recreation, as well as farm and food experiences,” said Ozuna.

Local organizers like Visit Walla Walla are in charge of finding venues for the RTS program where steering committee meetings, networking receptions and community workshops can take place.

SWT takes on the responsibility of acquiring and managing funds for various state destination tourism marketing endeavors. Additionally, it plays a pivotal role in crafting and executing the strategic statewide destination marketing plan.

The Walla Walla Valley group members will spearhead the planning and execution of several destination development endeavors aimed at bolstering regional tourism.

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