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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, December 31, 2012, 6:30 am

Trends for 2013: Tourism: Officials see continuing growth in year ahead

New promotion programs, America’s Cup behind positive outlook

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    NORTH BAY — Tourism across the North Bay continued to rebound at a steady and promising pace in 2012, and the industry is poised to post further gains in the coming year with a series of high-profile events and increased marketing efforts, officials said.

    In 2013, each county has plans to ramp up outreach efforts to lure visitors, ranging from seizing opportunities associated with the forthcoming America’s Cup to highlighting restaurants to integrating marketing efforts with like-minded organizations.

    Following years of regrouping after the economic collapse of 2008, Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties have all posted significant improvement, with hotel occupancy rising at a now-healthy pace, officials in each county said, adding that 2013 looks to be even better.

    “People are optimistic about the new year overall,” said Tim Zahner, director of marketing for Sonoma County Tourism, which recently dropped the “bureau” from its name as part of an effort with the Sonoma County Vintners and Sonoma County Winegrape Commission to coordinate marketing the region. “Based on the last year, things were very good.”

    In the year ended in November, a number of key categories were up, according to Smith Travel Research. Occupancy rates increased to 68.4 percent, up nearly 6 percent compared to 2011. Average daily rates increased to $118.37 for an approximately 4 percent increase over year, while revenue per available room was $80.9, up nearly 10 percent over the year.

    Mr. Zahner pointed to a number of efforts and events in the coming months that should, hopefully, make 2013 an even bigger improvement. That includes working with Visit California, the state’s official tourism booster, as well as with Brand USA, established by the Travel Promotion Act in to promote the United States as a travel destination, to help make Sonoma County more visible internationally.

    Additionally, Sonoma County will continue to push its “Tourism Ambassador” program, which trains anyone interested in tourism — from public officials to servers at restaurants — to become an expert on the area. And the Amgen Tour of California will finish in Santa Rosa will lure scores of cyclist enthusiasts, further establishing the county with that demographic.

    Marin County had its best year since 2008, said Mark Essman, chief executive officer of the Marin Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the coming year looks to be particularly eventful with America’s Cup coming into full focus.

    For the year ended in October, average daily room rates reached $130.77, up 5.9 percent compared to 2011. Beginning in June 2012, occupancy reached 70 percent and has remained over that level every month through October, Mr. Essman said.  Over 10 months, occupancy was 75.3 percent, up 6.8 percent over the previous year. And RevPAr was up to $98.44, an increase of 13.1 percent over the year, according to PKF Consulting, which tracks the hospitality industry in the Bay Area.

    Several factors are behind the positive numbers in 2012, including the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge, preliminary America’s Cup events in the San Francisco Bay and the fact that gasoline didn’t surpass five dollars per gallon, Mr. Essman said. Marin will also continue to present itself as an ideal stop off between San Francisco and wine country.

    “Our central location helps us,” Mr. Essman said. “We’re cheaper than the city and in wine country, but you can be in both within 30 minutes.”

    In addition to expected increases due to the America’s Cup, other efforts will continue to focus on the county’s outdoor attractions, including its open space and busy state parks. Mr. Essman projected that tourism business could increase by about three to six percent “because of a number signature events, especially the America’s Cup.”

    Meritage expanded aerial

    Aerial view of the front of The Meritage Resort and Spa showing the hotel addition and new conference center at left.

    Meanwhile, Napa Valley has secured the title of being the official wine sponsor of the America’s Cup, which will help the region market itself to a similar demographic of its visitors. Business has improved over the last year, as well, much of it the result of a two-year old tourism improvement district that increased Visit Napa Valley’s marketing budget to $4.5 million annually.

    For the 12 months ending in October, hotel occupancy rates were up by 4.8 percent, according to Smith Travel Research. Average daily room rates reached $239.32, up 3.2 percent over the year, while revenue per available room was $155.89, an increase of 8 percent. Total revenue has already surpassed that of 2011, up 10 percent to $258.3 million.

    “That’s a really nice number,” said Clay Gregory, CEO of Visit Napa Valley. “The comparison numbers are a lot more robust and it’s really exciting.”

    Since the recession ended in 2010, the region’s hotels have steadily improved — revenues in 2011 were up by nearly 16 percent over the previous year and revenues in 2010 were up 13.4 percent over the year.

    A flurry of new events designed to attract visitors year-round will occur in the next few months, including Restaurant Month, Arts in April and, again, the America’s Cup.

    The past six months have been among the most successful in years, in no small part because of a number of high-profile events such as Flavor Napa Valley, a star-studded food and wine festival in its second year, and other new efforts like the Napa Valley Film Festival, Mr. Gregory said.

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