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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, February 25, 2013, 6:00 am

After a robust 2012, tourism officials see good news continuing

Occupancy, room revenue climbs across the North Bay

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    As North Bay lodging businesses look to the year ahead, most are expressing confidence for continued improvement, with occupancy rates and revenues showing steady gains across Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties.

    In each county, important metrics used in the industry were up over the year, suggesting the travails of 2008 and 2009 recession-driven stagnation are finally in the rear view mirror, officials said.

    “People are positive in their outlook, which is a good thing,” Tim Zahner, marketing director for Sonoma County Tourism, said, his sentiments echoed in Marin and Napa counties.

    Sonoma County led the way in the rebound, with occupancy rates up by 6.8 percent over the year, average daily room rates up 3.4 percent and revenue per available room, or RevPar — a key indicator that combines rate and occupancy — up significantly by 10.5 percent, according to Smith Travel Research. Total revenues over the year were also up by 10.4 percent. Over the month, January occupancy rates were up by 15.5 percent, daily room rates by 1.8 percent and RevPar up by 17.5 percent, meaning 2013 is off to a positive start.

    Mr. Zahner said the county has received an uptick in inquiries either looking to expanding or opening new tourism-related businesses in Sonoma County, a reflection of its continued rebound.  

    Similarly, over the 12 months ending in January, occupancy at Napa County hotels was up 3.2 percent, average daily room rates were up by 3 percent and RevPar was up by 6.4 percent, according to Smith Travel Research figures released last week.  For the month of January, occupancy rates were up 4.7 percent, average daily room rates by 5.3 percent and RevPar increased by 10.3 percent. Total revenues were up by 13.7 percent.

    “It sure feels robust in and around the Valley,” said Clay Gregory, chief executive officer of Napa County’s official tourism arm, Visit Napa Valley.

    That RevPar was up by more than 10 percent in January bodes especially well given it’s the height of the offseason, Mr. Gregory said, noting that last January wasn’t an especially memorable month. But continued efforts to promote the offseason, dubbed “Cabernet Season,” are beginning to pay off, he said.

    Mr. Gregory also pointed to two-year statistics from Smith Travel, which indicated that, from 2010 to 2012, RevPar was up by 24.6 percent on weekends, while weekdays have seen an increase of 22.3 percent, the result of Visit Napa Valley focusing on soliciting business groups that travel primarily during the week.  To that end, in January, weekday travel was up 15.3 percent over the year, while weekend travel was up by 1.7 percent.

    Individual leisure travel business was down by 1.8 percent in the month of January, but that was more than offset by a big jump in in group business, which increased by 44.6 percent over January of last year.

    Likewise, during the off-season from 2010 through 2012, RevPar was up by 30.9 percent, while during the high season it was up by 16.4 percent.

    “Hopefully that says we’ve had an impact during the off-season,” Mr. Gregory said.  He also highlighted the importance of a business improvement district, or BID, that was enacted in mid-2010, which put Napa County on par with its main competitors in terms of spending power. The BID generates roughly $4 million annually through a 2 percent assessment on hotel rooms.

    Over in Marin County, for the month of December, occupancy rates were up by 3.3 percent, average daily room rates by 3.1 percent and RevPar up by 6.6 percent, according to the latest figures from PKF Consulting. Over the year, the rebound was stronger, with occupancy up by 6.4 percent, average daily rates by 5.5 percent and RevPar up by an impressive 12.2 percent.

    Mark Essman, chief executive officer of the Marin County Visitors Bureau, attributed the better year to an improved overall economy, with more travelers coming to San Francisco, which then spill off into Marin.

    Marin is also poised to benefit from continued activity related to the America’s Cup, taking place through 2013 along the San Francisco and San Pablo bays.

    Back in Sonoma County, Mr. Zahner said the region is also poised for future growth now that the county has been included in the Bay Area region on official state tourism maps. It was previously listed as North Coast, meaning travelers to San Francisco wouldn’t see Sonoma County on potential Bay Area destinations.

    Sonoma County Tourism lobbied for six years to have that designation changed, arguing that for every other purpose — from U.S. Census data to the Association of Bay Area Governments — Sonoma County was listed in the Bay Area, but curiously not for tourism. Now that it’s in the Bay Area, marketing the region will that much easier, Mr. Zahner said, especially during the off-season, also known as Sonoma Sneak Away.

    “When you can use the Golden Gate Bridge to sell Sonoma County, that’s fantastic,” he said.

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