Move over Uber. Take a hike Lyft. Wallaround, a new, Walla Walla Valley-specific rideshare service, has come to town.
“The main goal is to have an elevated rideshare experience,” says Wallaround founder and owner Chris Wood. “People will have an experienced guide and people who already have a foot in the door of the wine industry.”
Wallaround uses a consortium of established, local tour company drivers to take people from where they are to where they are going. Wood plans to leverage that to give riders a better overall experience.
“It’s not going to be a full tour per se, but it will be people who know the roads and the wine industry and who can make suggestions for the rest of their trip,” he says. “They will also be vetted drivers who are safe and reliable.”
The company has its own app, which works like standard rideshare apps by making price calculations based on time and mileage. Pricing will be competitive with other rideshare services.
As Walla Walla Valley has grown, there has been an increasing need for such a service. This is particularly true for wineries on the south side of town, which is a 10 minute drive from downtown along often busy or quite rural roadways.
“While the valley is compact and it truly does take 10 minutes to get everywhere, those 10 minutes can often be rural,” says Liz Knapke, executive director of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, a nonprofit membership marketing association. The alliance is a major sponsor of the Wallaround app, along with Visit Walla Walla, an organization that markets and promotes tourism to the valley.
“We are always looking to be creative and to collaborate with small businesses within our community on new ideas to help fill gaps,” Knapke says.
You might be thinking ‘Isn’t there already an app for that?’ However, it’s important to remember that Walla Walla is a rural, 30,000-person town. The pandemic also negatively impacted rideshare availability in the valley.
“Ever since COVID, Uber has essentially all but disappeared,” says Wood. “It’s extremely unreliable.” (A friend who took an Uber to a restaurant and then had to walk home later that night due to the lack of Uber availability can vouch for that.)
Moreover, Walla Walla Valley straddles the Washington-Oregon border. Wood says that Uber has not been able to pick people up on the Oregon side of the valley, limiting its utility.
Originally from Seattle, Wood attended Whitman College in Walla Walla. He subsequently spent years working at Dunham Cellars and L’Ecole No. 41. While employed in the industry, Wood noticed a customer need that was unfulfilled.
“I would see the few other tour guides in the valley at the time and realized that we had a demand and a need for something greater,” he says.
Wood started working with Jim Wright in 2016. Wright had founded Tesla Winery Tours, offering curated tours to customers, all while riding in a Tesla. Wood was his right-hand man. After Wright passed unexpectedly in 2017, Wood took over the business. He left L’Ecole in 2018 to focus on Tesla Winery Tours full-time, though he continues to assist valley wineries on the side.
The Wallaround app was officially released August 8th. While Wood hadn’t had his first customer yet when we spoke, industry support for the idea has been overwhelming.
“I’ve been floored at the reception so far,” Wood says. “Winery owners are so excited because everybody has a story of someone stuck at the airport or stuck downtown. This will be great for people who want to visit wineries on the outskirts but who can’t do a full tour and want to be responsible.”
This article has been corrected to list Jim Wright as the founder of Tesla Winery Tours.
Image courtesy of Wallaround.
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