Sonoma Valley tourism bounces back from wildfires, study says
Visitors to the Sonoma Valley spent $377 million last year, which generated a total of $490 million in total business sales and more than $60 million in tax revenues, according to findings from a newly released study, commissioned by the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau and the Sonoma Tourism Improvement District.
The report’s findings covers Sonoma Valley’s tourism industry for 2017, a year where historic fires threatened much of the fourth quarter. Tim Zahner, executive director of the SVVB, said this is the first such study conducted in the Sonoma Valley, which includes the town of Sonoma, Kenwood, Glen Ellen and Boyes Hot Springs.
“While the October 2017 wildfires had a noticeable and acute impact, there was a recovery over time,” Zahner said. “However, that recovery wasn’t the same throughout the valley, and we are mindful of the need to continue to get the word out. This is especially true about Kenwood and Glen Ellen, where the hospitality businesses might have lost many of their local customer base.”
Other findings from the economic-impact report estimate nearly 20,000 jobs in the region, with one in six jobs being sustained by tourism. It also found an estimated 23 percent of tourism-supported jobs were in the food and beverage sector; 20 percent were in accommodations; 14 percent were in retail and 11 percent were in recreation.
“Hospitality has been a part of Sonoma Valley’s history for more than 150 years,” said Hunt Bailie, president of the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau.
Norman Krug, chair of the Sonoma Tourism Improvement District, said, “We know that tourism is largely made up of small, locally owned business throughout Sonoma Valley. This data helps us quantify the size of the industry and understand how it integrates into Sonoma Valley’s economy.”
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Other findings of the report detailed that, unlike economic sectors such as construction or financial services, tourism is not easily measured because it is not a single industry. It is a demand-side activity which affects multiple sectors to various degrees, according to SVVB. Tourism is comprised of industries classified as retail, transportation, arts and recreation, accommodations, and food and beverage.
Outside of the study, more fires in 2018 also impacted tourism in Sonoma Valley, Zahner said.
“The fires that occurred over the summer north of us, and then the next fire that was in Butte County and the subsequent smoke in November also had a negative effect on tourism,” he said. “We found that the Butte fires caused our Bay Area and Sacramento (visitors) to cancel their trips more than people who came from further away.”
Still, the region’s hotel occupancy numbers in 2018 are on the positive side year-to-date when compared to last year, Zahner said.
Occupancy is up 3 percent through October, and the average daily rate, which shows how much a lodging property can charge for a room, is also up 1.6 percent year-to-date compared to last year, he said, noting the latter figure also represents lost business from the October 2017 fires.
“Overall, tourism in the Sonoma Valley has done well, but there is room for improvement and opportunities to improve,” said Zahner, who took the helm as executive director in August.
In 2019, Zahner said he will be focusing on the Sonoma Valley community and working to demonstrate the value of the hospitality industry to the residents, which he acknowledged isn’t always easy.