Seattle to Sunnyside tourist destination eyed
Promoters of Yakima Valley tourism envision tourists getting off their plane at Sea-Tac Airport, hopping a chartered flight to Sunnyside, touring Yakima Valley wineries, then flying back to Seattle to their Alaska-bound cruise ship in time for a nightcap.
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SUNNYSIDE, Wash. — Imagine tourists getting off their plane at Sea-Tac Airport, hopping a chartered flight to Sunnyside, touring Yakima Valley wineries, then flying back to Seattle to their Alaska-bound cruise ship in time for a nightcap.
That's what promoters of Lower Yakima Valley tourism and the Sunnyside airport envision, and they have an ally in a Seattle commerce executive.
"This is not crazy at all," said Bill Bryant, president of the Port of Seattle board of commissioners.
So far, local officials only have ideas, but they shared those with Bryant at a meeting Thursday morning in the Port of Sunnyside board room. Among them: Package scenic flights with wine tasting; partner with limousine and wine tour bus vendors; pass out brochures to Seattle hotel concierges about quick-trip flights to Sunnyside.
"I think we need a global package," said Ted Durfey, a Sunnyside area farmer, amateur pilot and a member of the Sunnyside airport committee. The committee is a City Council-appointed advisory group charged with finding ways to encourage more planes to visit Sunnyside's municipal airport, currently home to little more than a few private planes, crop dusters and pigeons.
The timing was impeccable, Bryant said. Tourism officials from his neighborhood had just been talking about this.
Seattle's cruise ship business is booming. This year, the city will see 223 visits at two cruise ship docks.
State tourism promoters have been brainstorming ways to convince those passengers to make excursions around Washington before and after their voyages to Alaska. Tourism proponents in Chelan County and the Olympic Peninsula have been bending Bryant's ear lately, too, he said.
Shirley Puryear, owner of the Bonair Winery near Zillah, said cruise ship passengers already are finding their way to the Yakima Valley.
One day recently, her winery saw about 60 visitors. Ninety percent were from out of state and many of them told her they either were heading out on or coming back from a cruise, she said.
However, one of the biggest hurdles to marketing the Lower Valley to more visitors is the condition of the airport, said Jim Grubenhoff, a Port of Sunnyside commissioner.
It does not have a fixed-base operator for maintenance or service, and the taxiway is mottled with large cracks. Fuel is only available with a self-service, credit-card pump. The pilots lounge needs renovated restrooms, too, Grubenhoff said.
"There's some things we're going to have to do out there," he said.
Port of Sunnyside and city authorities envision improving those things and eventually extending the runway to attract larger planes. The port recently agreed to purchase nearly 200 acres north of the runway from Don Padelford, a property owner who had wanted to subdivide it for upscale homes.
Dave McFadden, president of the Yakima County Development Association and who did not attend the meeting, was glad to hear Sunnyside officials were thinking big. But he suggested they look beyond day trips for the Seattle visitors.
"It's very worthwhile to spend a few days in the Yakima Valley," he said.
The next step is to pitch the ideas to representatives from cruise lines, Seattle hotels, tourism bureaus and the Washington Wine Commission, said Bryant, former vice president of the Northwest Horticulture Council, which is based in Yakima.
Meanwhile, local officials plan to begin researching costs of chartered flights, limousines and other services to come up with price estimates for these cruise ship vacation "add-ons," as Bryant called them.
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