Coronavirus putting the brakes on California tourism, travel, reports say

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The economic impact for the outbreak of the new coronavirus is expected to be felt in California tourism through the end of this year, according to new industry reports.

Visit California, a nonprofit organization tasked with driving domestic and international visitation to the state, reported on March 6 that, according to an industry analysis released the same day, the economic impact of the virus, called COVID-19, on the tourism industry is expected to bottom out in the next five to six months, then begin to rebound around the first quarter of 2021.

But the impact on travel is forecast to last even longer. The report, “Analysis of COVID-19 Potential Impacts on U.S. International and Domestic Travel,” was produced by Wayne, Pennsylvania-based Tourism Economics LLC.

The North Bay’s tourism industry is starting to see fallout from the viral outbreak.

“We have seen a few cancellations, mainly in group business, but we haven’t seen the true impact trends yet,” said Claudia Vecchio, president and CEO of Sonoma County Tourism. “We do know that advance bookings have slowed (in the) April–May timeframe.”

The impacts, Vecchio said, will begin to emerge as hard numbers start coming in from STR, a data and analytics firm that tracks the hospitality industry. Even so, the measurable data lags by at least a week, and with COVID-19 spreading quickly, it remains to be seen how long the threat will last.

“We are continuing with our spring marketing campaign until we see a reason to pause it,” Vecchio said. “If we can be a place where people can escape the crowds, and we feel good about promoting the destination, we will continue to make that push.”

Vecchio said SCT is monitoring the situation on a daily basis along with Visit California and San Francisco Travel, as is Visit Napa Valley. VNV also is operating in a business-as-usual mode for now and awaiting measurable data.

With regard to business and group travel, Napa’s lodging industry is reporting groups that have postponed events for March are looking to reschedule later in the year, according to Linsey Gallagher, president and CEO of Visit Napa Valley. She has heard anecdotally that leisure travelers are taking a wait-and-see approach to travel and that cancellations aren’t widespread.

As of now, Visit Napa Valley is moving forward with hosting its annual Destination Symposium on March 30 from 8:30 to 11 a.m. at The CIA at Copia. The event is open to the public.

Tim Zahner, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, said he’s been hearing from hotels that are getting business that otherwise would have gone abroad.

“There’s always a downside, and sometimes there’s a little bit of upside,” he said.

Staff Writer Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. Reach her at or 707-521-4259.

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