Sonoma County spending on tourism tops $2B, but wildfire recovery is a factor, report says

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Sonoma County’s tourism industry contributed $2.2 billion to the region’s economy last year, Sonoma County Tourism, the county’s destination marketing organization, announced Tuesday.

According to the findings, visitor spending in Sonoma County rose 4.4% to nearly $2.2 billion from 2017 to 2018. It also showed a 6.7% increase, or $194.8 million, in travel-generated state and local tax revenues. Of that, visitors generated $102.1 million for Sonoma County to fund local services.

Without the tax revenues generated by travel spending, each Sonoma County household would have to pay an additional $890 in taxes to maintain state and local services, according to Sonoma County Tourism and Visit California, per Dean Runyon and Associates’ data.

Claudia Vecchio, president and CEO of Sonoma County Tourism, said the 2018 figures don’t reflect a typical year for the region’s tourism economy. Each year, the agency commissions the report provided through Visit California’s partnership with Dean Runyan and Associates.

“In the 18 months following the 2017 wildfires, tourism in Sonoma County experienced a time unlike any in our history,” Vecchio said. “Traditional performance metrics, such as the STR report of lodging rates and occupancy, were monitored but did not convey the full picture of the challenges faced by the tourism industry during this rebuilding time period.”

In addition, even though area lodging properties were full, many of the occupants were people displaced from having lost their homes in the fires, or workers employed by construction and rebuilding companies, she said.

“This makes any economic impact numbers for 2018 outside the normal reporting environment,” Vecchio said.

Joe Bartolomei, chairman of Sonoma County Tourism's board of directors, echoed Vecchio’s thoughts.

“While we are pleased that tourism continues to drive strong economic activity, we know the industry has worked harder during the past 18 months than ever before,” Bartolomei said. “Tourism is an integral part of all our communities and we’re working to ensure our businesses and employees have the support needed to succeed.” Sonoma County’s hospitality industry employs more than 22,000 people.

In addition to releasing the county’s 2018 economic report, Sonoma County Tourism also is participating in National Travel and Tourism Week (May 5-11) with the launch of its Power of Tourism webpage and third annual Tourism Cares volunteering event. Set for Thursday, May 9, agency volunteers will work on getting Spring Lake Regional Park ready for the summer season, according to Nicole Bradin, director of community engagement for Sonoma County Tourism.

“Since (Tourism Cares’) inception, 240 volunteers have worked 760 hours at more than 15 events,” she said.

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