Tourism resurgence in Sonoma County

  • At Ferngrove Cottages in Guerneville, Thursday Sept. 15, 2011, gardener Mario Barajas keeps the grounds looking colorful and supplies rooms with fresh cut flowers. Ferngrove has seen a 10 percent jump in business this summer. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2011

The Russian River has been a summer vacation hotspot for more than a hundred years, but it took a serious hit during the economic downturn.

Tourism fell more than 10 percent in 2009 as cash-strapped families cut their travel budgets. There was improvement last summer, but business still didn't return to pre-recession levels.

But now, the river's tourist industry is breathing easier as vacation season draws to a close this week. At Guerneville's Fern Grove Cottages, a 90-year-old resort in the redwoods, business was up 10 percent from last summer.

"We're almost back," said Michael Kennett, who's owned the bed-and-breakfast resort for a decade. "It was our best year since 2008."

The surge of tourists visiting the Russian River reflects a revival underway across Sonoma County's $1.2 billion visitor sector, said Ken Fischang, CEO of the county Tourism Bureau.

"We did much better than we thought we'd do," he said. "Even with all the ups and downs of the stock market, people are traveling."

Sonoma County's lodging business is up more than 11 percent so far this year, according to Smith Travel Research, a consulting firm that tracks the hospitality industry.

Occupancy and room rates are on the rise. In July, 78.5 percent of available rooms were full, the best performance in more than four years, according to Smith Travel.

The average room rate of $124.51 was up almost 6 percent from 2009, but still down 5 percent from its peak in 2007.

Meanwhile, hotels are investing millions in upgrades as they watch guests return, Fischang said.

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