[caption id="attachment_87245" align="alignnone" width="500"] Last year, local hotel occupancy rose 9 percent, and the average daily room rate 5.2 percent, said Ken Fischang of Sonoma County Tourism at the group's annual meeting Feb. 4.[/caption]

SANTA ROSA -- Tourism in Sonoma County continues to improve, evidenced by a 9 percent year-over-year increase in hotel occupancy and 5.2 percent increase in the average room rate for the county, according to the county's official tourism boosters.

"Sonoma County’s hospitality industry really made strides in 2013," said Ken Fischang, president and chief executive officer of Sonoma County Tourism. The figures were presented Tuesday at the group's annual meeting, held at Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa.

Transient occupancy taxes similarly rose countywide last year. Total TOT revenues reached nearly $2.1 million, up from nearly $1.8 in 2012, according to tourism officials. Revenue from the county business improvement area, a 2 percent assessment levied on hotels in all cities except Sonoma and Healdsburg, totaled more than $3.5 million in 2013, compared with just north of $3 million in 2012.

Revenue per available room in the county reached $91.45 in 2013, up 14.6 percent from $79.77, according to data from Smith Travel Research.

Comparatively, the per-room revenue average for Napa Valley last year was $119.53, up 11.2 percent from $107.50. Average occupancy in the valley last year increased 4.3 percent to 64.4 percent.

The $1.47 billion tourism economy in Sonoma County -- which supports nearly 19,000 jobs in the county -- generated approximately $95 million in state and local tax revenues, according to Mr. Fischang.

"Tourism continues to be an important economic driver for Sonoma County," Supervisor David Rabbitt, chairman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, said in a statement. "Not only is business coming back, people in the hospitality industry believe in the economic recovery."

Out of more than 300 tourism-related businesses in Sonoma County, 87 percent of businesses are "optimistic" or "somewhat optimistic" about their prospects in 2014, he added, citing an annual tourism survey.

For 2014, Sonoma County Tourism is projecting a budget of more than $5.8 million, with 62 percent of that coming from BIA revenue, 35 percent coming from TOT revenue and other sources such as interest and cost reimbursements accounting for the remaining 3 percent.

Tourism officials on Tuesday also noted growth in sales leads from weddings, up 13 percent with an economic impact of $663,000 and leads distributed up 6 percent with a potential economic impact of $25.9 million.

They also pointed to the success of its Sonoma County Certified Tourism Ambassador Program, which recruits and trains workers within the sector to serve as certified tourism ambassadors.

"Our initial goal when we started the program in October 2012 was to certify 500 ambassadors in the first year," Mr. Fischang said. "We reached that goal within the first five months of the program. By the end of the year more than 1,000 CTAs successfully completed the program."