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

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.

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