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Santa Rosa businesses see boost from tourism campaign

  • Casie Tompioner of Santa Rosa, left and her boyfriend Will Moncada of Cloverdale, visited the Flamingo Hotel on Wednesday during a "staycation." The hotel is seeing more visitors, in part because of a promotional program launched by the Santa Rosa Convention and Visitors Bureau. (KENT PORTER/Press Democrat)

Santa Rosa's hotels, restaurants and attractions are getting a boost from a new program to promote the county's largest city as a tourist destination.

The city's room tax receipts grew almost 7 percent last year, Brad Calkins, director of the Santa Rosa Convention and Visitors Bureau, announced Wednesday.

“In this tough economy, that's a lot of jobs we're creating,” he told guests at a Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce breakfast at Wells Fargo Center for the Arts.

The city created a “tourism business improvement area” in late 2010 to fund visitor programs with a 3 percent increase in the city's hotel room tax.

The tax raised $3.4 million last year, with about $782,000 going to the Santa Rosa Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The cash infusion allowed the bureau to expand its visitor-attraction efforts, Calkins said Wednesday. The bureau hired a sales director, spent more money on advertising and started a social media campaign, he said.

The efforts paid off with an additional 450 room-nights sold last year, Calkins said. Hotel revenues grew by $2.4 million in 2011, and total visitor spending was up by $6.9 million, he said.

Hotels have added 146 jobs in the past year, he said.

He forecast more growth this year with the Amgen Tour of California in Santa Rosa this weekend and other upcoming events expected to draw tourists to the city.

The tourism bureau is part of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce. It also operates the California Welcome Center in Santa Rosa's Railroad Square, one of 20 official tourism centers across the state.

Santa Rosa has 30 hotels, vacation rentals and bed-and-breakfast inns with more than 2,000 rooms. The city's hotel business peaked in 2007, when visitors generated more than $3.9 million in hotel room taxes.

Travel was hurt by the economic downturn that followed, dropping hotel room tax revenues to $3 million in 2009. Santa Rosa tourism has rebounded since then, although it's still below the peak.

So far this year, business is up about 5 percent, said Dan Brown, director of sales and marketing at the Flamingo Conference Resort and Spa in Santa Rosa.

The hotel's wedding business is especially good, although business travel hasn't returned to pre-recession levels, he said. Still, bookings look solid for this year's peak tourist season, Brown said.

“Summer's coming on strong,” he said.

Events are driving tourism growth in Santa Rosa, Calkins said. The city has been part of the Amgen tour six times since 2006, helping Santa Rosa gain a reputation as a premier bike racing venue, he said.

Levi's GranFondo, Peggy Sue's All-American Cruise and the opening of the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University will be among the top events this year, Calkins said.

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