Sonoma County tourism rebounds with increase in hotel stays, aerial lift
If anyone is optimistic about a rebound in tourism in Sonoma County, it’s Emily Glick.
Glick and her family investors bought the Applewood Inn late last year and since then she has spearheaded the renovation of the 21-bedroom Guerneville property which is slated to open in August. It covers six acres amid groves of redwoods complemented by apple, quince and fig trees.
The site is now called Stavrand Russian River Valley, renamed after the maternal side of the family whose previous generations worked in the travel industry.
The pandemic presented an opportunity as Glick found herself running a boarded up hotel in San Francisco, and the price of accommodation properties became more affordable thanks to a loan from the Small Business Administration. The refurbished hostel includes a poolside bar cart, outdoor yoga and spa treatments, evening sundowners by the fireside, and outdoor lawn games.
“I’ve always wanted to run my own property,” said Glick, who will be the managing director. “It’s the perfect size in an amazing location.”
In mid-summer, his exuberance over the local tourism industry’s return from the pandemic is supported by recent increases in travel and hotel occupancy figures.
Air passenger traffic took off at Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport. In June, the airport reported 49,186 arriving and departing passengers, surpassing 45,822 travelers a year ago during the pandemic doldrums.
With discount carrier Avelo Airlines adding flights between Sonoma County and Las Vegas starting September 16 and Alaska Airlines serving daily John Wayne Airport in Orange County and San Diego International Airport from From September 8, even more passengers could pass through the security gates of local airports. In the coming months.
“This summer is looking good,” said Claudia Vecchio, CEO of Sonoma County Tourism, the local agency responsible for promoting the industry.
The occupancy rates of hotels in the region are close to 90% on weekends. On weekdays it ranges from 70% to 75%, with those levels increasing on Wednesday and Thursday, Vecchio said.
“We are in many ways at pre-pandemic levels with hotel occupancy,” she said.
The increase in visitor activity has also been evident in short-term vacation rentals through websites such as Airbnb and Vrbo. There are about 2,000 vacation rental units in Sonoma County, compared to about 6,600 hotel rooms.
For the latest figures available for May, short-term rentals accounted for about 47% of overall accommodation revenue in the county. But vacation rentals had a much higher average daily rate of $ 490.79 compared to $ 194.68 for hotels. This means higher tax revenues for the county and local municipalities. As of May 2019, these short-term rental units accounted for 38% of the county’s overall accommodation revenue.
While summer travel and visitor numbers are important, those working in the county hospitality business take nothing for granted. They realize that things could suddenly change given the rapid spread of the delta coronavirus variant, as well as the potential for more wildfires in recent years.
For now, a deluge of visitors is returning to the downtown breweries of Russian River Brewing, Santa Rosa and Windsor, co-owner Natalie Cilurzo said. The wait for a table at the Santa Rosa Craft Brewery can last up to an hour, though bar and service inside have resumed. Many people coming this summer are in large groups, suggesting a group of families and friends vacationing together for the first time since the pandemic began in the spring of 2020, Cilurzo said.
“It’s quite interesting for me to see how many people show up with a group of 16 or 20 wanting to sit,” she said.
Another tourism barometer is Sonoma Raceway, host of the National Hot Rod Association’s Sonoma Nationals July 23-25. The event is the first on the racetrack since the lifting of public health capacity restrictions.
“The demand for tickets is close to 2019, which is great,” said Jennifer Imbimbo, spokesperson for the racetrack. “We’re really encouraged that people want to go out and have fun. “
Meanwhile, investors are investing in more local hotel development projects. Recent openings range from the luxury Montage Healdsburg resort, where rooms start at nearly $ 1,000 a night, to the budget La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham Santa Rosa Sonoma off Highway 101.
“I think the way Sonoma County came out of the recovery and the type of forward looking projections for Sonoma County are very positive,” Vecchio said. “It makes sense that developers and others looking for transformational projects… look into Sonoma County. “
A busy area is West County due to its proximity to various outdoor activities along the Russian River and the Sonoma Coast, while being a short drive to restaurants and sights. wine and beer tasting, she said.
For example, Crista Luedtke, owner of Boon Hotel and Spa and Boon Eat and Drink, took over ownership of The Highlands in Guerneville on June 1. As part of a reboot, Luedtke added 11 glamping tents that rent for $ 159 a night. They are equipped with king size beds and charging ports for smartphones and other devices.
“It’s a bit like the good old days. That’s how the Russian River kind of started, with these canvas huts that would be open for the summer season and then closed, ”Luedtke said.
Her team has redecorated the lobby as part of her property’s renovation, although like other owners of leisure and hospitality businesses in the area, she is understaffed and looking to hire.
“We have a record season so far,” said Luedtke, despite the fight for the staff.
Innkeeper Glick said she has positioned her Stavrand overnight rates between AutoCamp Russian River with her novelty Airstream trailers and a luxury stay at the Farmhouse Inn in Forestville. Prices at his inn start at $ 446 on a property that dates to the early 1920s. It was originally owned by Ralph “Rooster” Belden, president of the former Bank of Guerneville.
“There’s only a million things to do here,” Glick said. “In my mind, that makes Sonoma more dynamic than Napa.”
One of the challenges for the county’s tourism operators will be attracting more visitors during the off-season, from mid-November to Memorial Day. Glick plans to woo corporate retreats, as well as couples looking to get married in the spring, when the schedule is less busy and the cost is cheaper than in the summer and fall.
“It’s a seasonal challenge in Sonoma, especially in the Russian River (area),” Glick said.
You can reach editor Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or [email protected]m. On Twitter @BillSwindell.