Sonoma County tourists spend almost $2B in 2016

Travel spending in Sonoma County was $1.93 billion for 2016, growing by 5,7 percent over 2015, according to figures released Thursday from Visit California, the state’s tourism agency.

Travel spending in the county in 2015 was $1.82 billion.

“Tourism is an important economic driver for Sonoma County,” stated Ken Fischang, president and CEO of Sonoma County Tourism, the marketing organization for the county, in the announcement. “We are very pleased that we continue to show a return on our investment in tourism marketing, which translates to local jobs and government revenue.”

There has also been a 5.3 percent increase in government revenue from tourism in the form of local and state taxes, bringing in $158.4 million. That money is used locally for regional parks, public safety, economic development, agricultural promotion, and arts and cultural festivals as well as general funds for cities and the county, according to the tourism impact report.

The report also states each household in Sonoma County would pay an additional $820 a year in taxes to make up for the tax revenue attributed to tourism.

The total number of jobs in the tourism economy also grew by 3.1 percent, with 20,410 jobs now in the tourism sector locally. That equates to more than one in 10 private employer jobs in Sonoma County.

Hospitality jobs are varied in Sonoma County, with tour guides, restaurateurs and brewery tasting room staff just as likely to interact with a visitor as a hotel front desk clerk. And this doesn’t include the supporting businesses needed for the industry like commercial laundries, farmers, and all types of business services.

According the Sonoma County Economic Development Board’s annual tourism report, 91 percent of Sonoma County tourism businesses are locally owned and 82 percent are small businesses, employing fewer than 24 employees.

For all of California, total direct travel spending was $126.3 billion in 2016, a 3.2 percent increase.

Direct travel generated employment in California was 1,096,000 in 2016, a 3.4 percent increase over 2015. Travel-generated employment has increased at this 3.4 annual rate since 2010

Travel-generated state and local tax revenue was $10.3 billion, an increase of 3.8 percent.

“That’s enough to cover the state’s general fund for the year,” said Visit California President and CEO Caroline Beteta during a webinar Thursday.

Beteta also addressed questions about the affect of President Trump’s travel ban on the industry.

“Tourism is a very fluid situation. Travelers make decisions on conditions in a country’s economy, the amount of money in their pocket, safety, and the price of fuel. With small narratives from leaders in Washington, it’s difficult to pinpoint policy makers’ sway. From our indications there has been no drop off,” she said.

Tourism numbers are also up across other North Bay counties:

MARIN up 20 percent

Visitor spending in Marin County rose 20 percent in 2016, to $823 million, compared to $683.1 million in 2015. Local tax revenue collected was $37 million, and 7,190 are employed in the tourism industry, a 2.6 percent increase over 2015.

SOLANO up 1.7 percent

Total direct travel spending in Solano County was $607.4 million in 2016, up 1.7 percent, with $18 million in local tax revenue generated.

MENDOCINO up 3.6 percent

Mendocino County travel revenue was $374 million in 2016, up 3.6 percent, with $16.4 million generated in local tax revenue.

LAKE up 2.2 percent

Total direct travel spending in Lake County was $156 million, up 2.2 percent, with $3.7 million in local tax revenue.

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