There’s a new way to visit Walla Walla that doesn’t include a treacherous four-hour drive across the Cascade Mountains from Seattle—and it’s wallet-friendly.
The Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance—a nonprofit marketing organization supported by its member wineries—has teamed up with Alaska Airlines to introduce a program that promises to save travelers money to Washington’s top wine destination. Called “Taste and Tote,” it offers Alaska Airlines’ passengers tasting fee waivers at more than 70 area wineries as well as waived airline baggage handling fees on the first case of wine checked in for a flight.
The concept is designed to help generate more inbound air travel to Walla Walla, home to more than 130 wineries, and boost wine purchases, according to Duane Wollmuth, Wine Alliance executive director and founding partner of Three Rivers Winery. “In the past, air travelers were required to pay tasting fees at many wineries and a $20 baggage handling fee to transport a box of wine on outbound flights,” says Wollmuth. “In my 10 years at Three Rivers, we heard time and again from visitors that they either travelled by car to the valley, or did not buy wine when they flew, simply because they were not willing to pay the additional fee to transport wine home.”
Indeed, according to a recent survey conducted by Tourism Walla Walla, more than three quarters of visitors to the region travel by vehicle and fewer than 10% travel by plane—a number that reflects why major airlines have been reducing, if not eliminating, flights to small cities in the U.S., as reported by the Federal Aviation Administration. Delta Air Lines, for example, recently announced that it will discontinue service to 24 small airports.
“[Alaska Airlines] is always looking at small markets in terms of profitability,” says Wollmuth, adding, “the Washington wine community has pulled together and there are several organizations now working with Alaska Airlines. They are a business. They have to be profitable, so this is what I like to call our ‘Occupy Walla Walla’ effort, where corporate America is working with consumers to serve them better.”
“Taste and Tote” kicked off on December 1, and is expected to continue indefinitely.