When it comes to marketing a destination to potential visitors, many tourism boards rely on prior experience, personal opinions, anecdotal information and even hunches to develop their marketing strategies. While those factors can and do have a role to play in the process, nothing is more valuable, insightful or accurate than research.

Research not only allows us to establish very broad visitor profiles such as age, income and geographic origin, it also allows us to drill down into very specific details like activities, interests, spending, satisfaction, net promoter score and the likelihood of returning to Walla Walla. It allows us to be efficient in our work, targeted in our marketing, effective in our outcomes and the best possible stewards of the funds to which we are entrusted.

In terms of informing a destination management organization’s strategic approach, and prioritizing and allocating the resources that will be spent against it, I believe there is perhaps no greater return on investment than research.

Visit Walla Walla utilizes two primary methods of research — visitor intercept surveys and awareness and perception research — to help us better understand, among other things, who is visiting, when and why they are visiting and their perceptions of Walla Walla as a destination. Visitor intercept surveys capture data from travelers while they are already in Walla Walla, while awareness and perception research targets travelers who may or may not have visited Walla Walla previously, but who meet specific demographic or geographic criteria.

Experience tells us at the macro level that the Walla Walla Valley is widely recognized for its appeal as a wine and culinary destination, along with a growing supporting cast that includes recreation, performing and visual arts, history, culture and more. Research paints a much clearer picture of the micro influences and opportunities that we can mine from a marketing perspective.

Most recently, Visit Walla Walla contracted with RRC Associates, which specializes in market research for the tourism industry, to conduct a thorough visitor intercept survey in the summer and fall of 2021.

With funding from the Walla Walla County and city of Walla Walla Lodging Tax Advisory Committees, surveys were administered by local staff at multiple locations across Walla Walla including downtown, the airport, Fort Walla Walla Museum, the Visit Walla Walla visitor kiosk and at various wineries and tasting rooms. In all, more than 600 completed surveys were obtained between July 3 and Nov. 20, 2021.

While the findings validated many of our beliefs, they also shed light on opportunities to reach new audiences, promote new or different activities at certain times of the year, fine-tune messaging to specific demographics and adjust the timing of messaging to align with shifts in consumer travel planning behavior. We also learned that as many as 44% of respondents learned about Walla Walla as a destination through our owned marketing channels including advertising, PR, internet search, social media and website.

Utilizing demographic and psychographic data gleaned from the research, we have the ability to “clone” audiences, which allows us to reach even more people who fit the same or similar visitor profiles. We can also further optimize our target audience based on return on investment, by cross-referencing demographics with trip characteristics such as length of stay, lodging type, travel spending, party size, market of origin and mode of travel.

Armed with these findings and more, Visit Walla Walla has already begun to make even more informed decisions on where, when and how to target potential visitors. We also have a second round of research, funded by city of Walla Walla LTAC, focused on Walla Walla’s awareness and perception levels among travelers in key target markets. This survey is currently being conducted by Destination Analysts, and the findings will help further define our audience and position relative to competitive destinations and optimize our messaging and marketing accordingly.

The economic gains our community will make as a result of these investments will be seen in the hotels, restaurants, tasting rooms, shops and other businesses that will benefit from tried and true research-based approach to tourism.

To obtain a copy of the complete Walla Walla Summer/Fall 2021 Visitor Survey, please email director@wallawalla.org.


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