First came the tourists. Now come more hotel rooms to accommodate them.
With the arrival of the Memorial Day weekend, the summer travel season is poised to get rolling in Sonoma County. Travel officials and hoteliers are expecting plenty of business and say demand is prompting hospitality companies to build new hotels and enlarge existing properties.
“We feel it is a really good time to expand,” said Percy Brandon, general manager of the Vintners Inn just north of Santa Rosa.
The inn’s management is seeking permits to add 34 rooms and a full spa to the existing 44-room hotel, which is home to John Ash & Co restaurant. Brandon said demand remains strong for the inn’s lodging units even in the off-season, with occupancy rates averaging better than 80 percent this past winter.
Developers and hotel groups are pursuing roughly a dozen lodging projects around the county. They include the renovated Timber Cove Lodge in Jenner, which will open this summer as a new, luxury 46-room coastal resort named simply Timber Cove.
Also opening this summer in the “glamping,” or glamorous camping, segment is AutoCamp Russian River. The Guerneville resort will offer campers a chance to sleep in one of 23 new silver Airstream trailers or 10 luxury tents.
“This is camping for those who don’t like to get dirty,” said general manager Mark Belhumeur. Rates start at $175 a night, with the top units going for about $335.
Other lodging projects expected to open in the fall or winter include three hotels under construction around Rohnert Park and Windsor. The largest of those is the $195 million hotel at the Graton Resort and Casino.
In Healdsburg, Piazza Hospitality plans to break ground by next month on its third lodging property in the town, the $24 million H3 GuestHouse. The 39-room hotel will be built about a block from the main square and near Piazza’s other two businesses, the Hotel Healdsburg and H2 Hotel,
And Santa Rosa’s Hyatt Vineyard Creek hotel has plans to begin construction next year on a new building as part of a 99-unit expansion for the city’s largest conference hotel.
Tourism leaders in various businesses say the construction is a testament to a major sector of the economy and to the county’s power to attract visitors.
“Sonoma’s on the map,” said Jennifer Buffo, chief operating officer for Pure Luxury Transportation in Petaluma. “People think of Northern California Wine Country and they know Sonoma.”
Tourism spending increased 2.3 percent last year in the county to $1.82 billion, according to Visit California, the state’s main travel marketing organization.
The hospitality industry here employs roughly one out of every 10 workers. And state data suggest that since the last recession, employment in the local travel industry has grown at a much faster pace than for the total workforce.
“Tourism in the county is booming,” said Michelle Heston, regional director of public relations for Fairmont Hotels and Resorts and a member of the executive board for the group Sonoma County Tourism.
Hotel revenues jumped 75 percent during the five years ending in 2015, according to STR, Inc., a national travel research company. And to date this year, such revenues have climbed 9.8 percent compared to a year earlier.
In April, the average daily room rate for the 6,100 county hotel rooms that STR tracks climbed to $153.29, an increase of 9.2 percent from a year earlier.