SONOMA -- The city of Sonoma budget committee, along with the seven major hotel proprietors located there, have recommended against joining a business improvement area with the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau, opting instead to work more closely with the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau.
In its decision to recommend to the City Council that it remain separate from the county tourism bureau, the committee said, “The BIA was not considered a quantifiable solution to Sonoma’s financial issues at this time.”
The BIA would have added a 2 percent increase to the transit occupancy tax to businesses making more than $350,000 a year. The TOT currently stands at 10 percent. Talks are also in the works at the city about adding an additional 2 percent to the TOT to help offset budget matters. Hotel operators opposed the potential 4 percent increase, according to Wendy Stewart, owner of El Pueblo Inn in Sonoma, which joined six other hotels in recommending the city not join the BIA.
“It’s not anti-county, it’s more pro us” Ms. Stewart said.
Tim Zahner, director of public relations and marketing for the county tourism bureau, said while the agency would love to have the city of Sonoma be a part of its countywide destination marketing, the decision ultimately won’t have too much of an impact.
“We promote whatever we’re tasked to promote,” Mr. Zahner said, adding that he thinks the city of Sonoma would benefit from joining the BIA.
Currently, only the cities of Healdsburg and Sonoma are not part of the BIA.
Wendy Peterson, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, stressed that the issue was mainly between the hotels and the city, pointing out that the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau and the visitors bureau often work closely together. She also sits on the board of the county tourism bureau.
“It’s the seven hotels truly looking at what they think is the best business decision for them and how they work with the city,” Ms. Peterson said.
George Webber, owner and operator of Sonoma Walking Tours, has been a vocal proponent of the BIA, echoing Mr. Zahner’s notion that the city of Sonoma would benefit from the bureau’s broad marketing reach.
He said even with a potential 4 percent increase on the TOT, the impact on hotels and other large businesses would be offset by the potential gains of joining the BIA.
“I believe we can go from 10 to 12 to 14 percent without it being an impediment,” Mr. Webber said, arguing that the increase wouldn’t amount to much more than $10 a room at the various hotels, and it’s visitors who pay the tax and not businesses.
He also said that with Napa in the process of forming a Tourism Business Improvement District, it’s important for the city of Sonoma to be able to stay competitive. That opportunity, he said, is lost by not joining the Sonoma County BIA.
Ms. Stewart of El Pueblo Inn said the hotel owners were confident their own promotions would be enough to remain viable.