Tourism bureaus feeling the impact of COVID-19

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North Bay area tourism bureaus that promote and support the hospitality industry also are feeling the pain of COVID-19.

Sonoma County Tourism on March 17 furloughed six employees until at least May 7, ended its 401(k) match, and won’t fill four open positions, said Claudia Vecchio, the organization’s president and CEO. The furloughed employees’ medical benefits remain intact.

“We estimate a loss to our $8 million budget by about $1.8 million this year,” Vecchio said. “All teams reviewed budgets, and removed all absolutely unnecessary programs.”

The majority of SCT’s funding comes from a 2% assessment on applicable lodging rooms within the Sonoma County Tourism Business Improvement Area.

SCT’s executive team has taken a 20% salary cut, though wages for remaining staff are intact for now, she said.

The agency took further steps that include ending its auto allowance and work cell phones.

Sonoma County Tourism also cancelled its contracts, both with its domestic public relations agency and international tourism agencies that promote the region, she said.

Linsey Gallagher, president and CEO at Visit Napa Valley, said in a statement sent March 26 to the agency’s hospitality partners that “while Visit Napa Valley fully supports the state’s shelter-in-place order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the effect to our local hotel community and the tourism industry as a whole, has been especially devastating.”

VNV has temporarily closed its welcome center, and implemented a mix of reduced staff hours and salaries, as well as layoffs, according to the statement.

“With current hotel occupancies in Napa County forecasted at 10% or below in the coming weeks, and possibly months, our funding is also drastically reduced,” Gallagher said. Visit Napa Valley’s budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year is $7.7 million, funded primarily by the Tourism Improvement District, a self-assessment on the room revenue of Napa County hotels.

Details about funding cuts and the number of layoffs at Visit Napa Valley were not available at press time.

No changes have been made to-date at Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, said Tim Zahner, executive director.

“We run pretty lean, so no cuts as of yet,” Zahner said. The bureau has two full-time employees, six hourly employees who work one to three shifts a week on average, a number of contractors and about 45 volunteers, he said.

Zahner noted the bureau’s marketing efforts have been put on hold and focus has shifted to collaborative efforts like Sonoma To-Go, a new website to support local businesses during COVID-19.

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

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