Report: Sonoma County tourism businesses to take continued hit for next 3 years amid pandemic recovery

Travel and leisure, two industries that are the lifeblood of Sonoma County’s economy and saw a two-year employment drop of 19.3%, will remain vulnerable until 2024.

That’s the assessment by the Sonoma County Economic Development Board of post-pandemic life for accommodations and food service businesses, according to Executive Director Sheba Person-Whitley, speaking during North Bay Business Journal’s Impact Sonoma conference Wednesday. These companies that represent a part of the travel and leisure industries are expected to be down by over 9% over the next three years.

“We’ve certainly made strides, but it’s going to take time to get back to pre-pandemic levels,” Person-Whitley told attendees of the virtual event.

Person-Whitley acknowledged that in many areas the county’s economy is “looking good for recovery,” but that “more work needs to be done.”

An agency report released this month stated the Wine Country region relies heavily on travel and leisure to drive tourism. Other industries that are expected to continue teeter include arts and entertainment, down 1% and educational services dropping over 7% at a time in which businesses expect to recover from the pandemic.

Aside from other industries doing better than others, minorities were also pegged as less favorable coming out of the pandemic in full recovery. The report listed higher percentages of Black Indigenous People of Color businesses and workers facing challenges and obstacles, from revenue decline and loss of networking opportunities to a reduction of customers and missing out on necessary financing.

The Economic Board developed as a program aimed at helping businesses in the region recover. The organization has provided $2.3 million in COVID-19 relief grants in the efforts.

Person-Whitley noted the magnitude of the pandemic as a challenge and puzzle that won’t be solved overnight.

“We knew it would be different. It’s not like a wildfire and flood. It impacts everyone to some degree,” she told conference attendees.

The Impact Sonoma conference was underwritten by Exchange Bank. A replay of the conference is available through Dec. 31 at

Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, production, biotech, energy, transportation, agriculture as well as banking and finance. For 25 years, Susan has worked for a variety of publications including the North County Times, now a part of the Union Tribune in San Diego County, along with the Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe News. She graduated from Fullerton College. Reach her at 530-545-8662 or

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