The questions about travel have already started rolling into Eritage Resort from potential visitors.
“People want to know when we can start to book reservations,” said Terra Luthi, who manages the luxury wine country destination.
In preparation she plans to join a movement out of destination marketing organization Visit Walla Walla called the “Peace of Mind Pledge.”
Announced this morning, the campaign is intended as a demonstration by local businesses of their commitment to the health and safety of guests.
The pledge is voluntary and rolls out well before economic reopening phases that authorize nonessential travel. But Luthi, also a board member for Visit Walla Walla, said tourism and hospitality operators “want to keep Walla Walla top of mind while giving local businesses a platform to demonstrate their commitment to reassuring travelers that Walla Walla is a safe and healthy community eager to welcome them.”
The initiative, bolstered by support from the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce and Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, asks lodging properties, restaurants, wineries and breweries, tour operators, activity providers and other businesses, to demonstrate their commitment to meet — and possibly exceed — best practices as they emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic closures.
Those include many of the practices that will already be issued by local, state and federal operations as well as trade organizations relevant to each business. They also include acceptance of the additional cost to businesses that will come as a result of prioritizing health and safety, implementing health and safety policies and protocols specific to individual businesses and employees, and increase transparency in the process.
More than a dozen businesses have already committed after the offer was extended Thursday.
Justin Yax, partner and public relations principal for Visit Walla Walla-contracted firm DVA Advertising & Public Relations, said health and safety concerns will likely be one of the biggest hurdle destinations will face with return of leisure and group travel.
Organizations like Visit Walla Walla “have the ability – and the credibility – to assume a leadership position with regard to traveler reassurance, and according to research are second only to ‘friends or relatives’ when it comes to who travelers trust to provide them with the information they need to travel safely right now,” Yax said.
“In the case of Visit Walla Walla, the Peace of Mind Pledge brings together partners from all corners of the Valley’s tourism industry, unites them around a critical need, and delivers it from a position of trust and authority that helps mitigate down one of the biggest barriers to travel right now.”
Under Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phased approach to reopening, broad nonessential travel could begin to return late June at the earliest.
Travel research firm Destination Analysts, which has published findings of its Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Report every week since March 13, reports more than 70% of American travelers are excited to return to travel when they feel it is safe, the Peace of Mind Pledge announcement said.
“There’s no question that consumers will be making their travel decisions in the coming months based in part on the safety of a destination, whether real or perceived,” Yax said. “Eventually I believe programs like this will become the rule rather than the exception, but right now Visit Walla Walla is one of the few destinations I am aware of that is doing so. That says a lot about the community, and the individuals and businesses who rely so heavily on tourism.”
Walla Walla is well-positioned for recovery in that it’s home to wide-open spaces and driving distance from major markets where weekend getaways are more likely to be part of initial travel plans for visitors than longer vacations.
“This is what our travelers are going to want,” Luthi said. “We want people to stop wishing and start traveling.”
For more information on the program, visit wallawalla.org/peace.