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Sonoma tourism numbers almost back to normal

Hotel occupancy rates in Sonoma County for May were at 68% while short-term rentals offered through websites such as Airbnb were at 71%.|

Almost halfway through the year, local tourism has nearly returned back to where it was before the coronavirus pandemic struck, according to data and officials in the hospitality industry.

“The pent-up demand is real. We are definitely seeing an influx of visitors,” said Claudia Vecchio, president and CEO of Sonoma County Tourism, the local agency responsible for promoting the sector.

Hotel occupancy rates in Sonoma County for May were at 68% as demand last month was down only 4% below 2019 levels. Meanwhile, short-term rentals offered through websites such as Airbnb were at 71%, according to data from the agency. The uptick in visitors during the weekends was notable as Vecchio said full-service hotels were at about 91% occupancy during recent weekends.

“That is about the highest we are going to get based on workforce issues,” said Vecchio, referencing hotels and restaurants that cannot get to full capacity because they cannot find available workers for such service sector jobs.

Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport also has experienced an increase in travelers. In May, the airport had 38,050 passengers arriving and departing from the airport. That figure almost reached the 2019 level of 39,536 for the same month.

“It’s looking solid to start with,” said Jon Stout, airport manager.

The airport is on a path to have 20 departures a day by September, which would be a record high. The increase has been aided by the arrival of Avelo Airlines, which started flying into Santa Rosa this spring from Hollywood Burbank Airport.

But such news is contingent that the major airlines that serve the airport — such as Alaska, American and United — keep up their schedules into the fall due to continued customer demand, Stout said.

“September and October are still being worked on by the carriers,” he said.

The increase in visitors also has had a positive impact with a spike in tourism-related taxes that will be collected for local government. That revenue suffered a massive decline last year as visitors stayed home because of the COVID-19 outbreak, Vecchio noted. The uptick in such taxes has especially been driven by the continued popularity of short-term rentals as there are almost 2,000 such units in Sonoma County. There are about 6,600 hotel rooms.

Short-term rentals in May represented about 47% of the overall lodging revenue in the county, though they had a much higher average daily room rate of $490.79 compared to $194.68 for hotels, resulting in more tax revenue. In May 2019, short-term rentals represented only 38% of overall room revenue.

“The collection has been much stronger than we anticipated,” Vecchio said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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