The Pliny the Younger beer release this February brought $3.3 million in economic impact to Sonoma County, providing a hopeful sign that tourists are returning to the area in the aftermath of last year’s wildfires.
The figure comes from a survey conducted by the Sonoma County Economic Development Board on the popular two-week event held at the Russian River Brewing Co. in downtown Santa Rosa. Since 2010, visitors have lined up for hours to drink Pliny the Younger during its limited release, attracted by its reputation as one of the best beers in the world.
“While the month ended up about flat over last year, it was the best month we have had since the fires,” Natalie Cilurzo, co-owner of Russian River Brewing, said about February. “That tells me that tourists are slowly making their way back to Sonoma County.”
The survey counted 12,552 guests who visited specifically for the event, with 67 percent coming from outside the area. That number of visitors from outside Sonoma County was 6 percentage points higher than a survey conducted in 2016.
“It’s a wonderful boost. A shot in the arm,” said Ben Stone, the economic development board’s executive director.
This year’s survey was different from the previous one because it excluded those who only visited the brewpub’s gift shop to purchase beer to go or other merchandise.
The survey found that overnight visitors spent on average 1.06 nights at a local hotel or Airbnb at a rate of $200.80 a night. Visitors came from 40 states and 17 foreign countries, spending on average $74.94 per person at the brewpub.
“The attendance was a bit lighter this year. Losing two major hotels (from the fires) and the conversion of vacation homes to temporary/permanent housing is definitely having an effect on tourism,” Cilurzo said in an email.
Local tourism officials have been concerned about a decrease in tourists to Sonoma County in the aftermath of the wildfires, especially after the devastation was shown worldwide on television and online media. Visit California, the nonprofit arm of the state Office of Tourism, spent $2 million in an advertising campaign urging travelers to not cancel their plans to visit Sonoma County.
Cilurzo said she is bullish about the future as Russian River Brewing prepares to open this fall its new brewery and brewpub in Windsor, which should attract another round of tourists from outside the area.
“It’s time to generate more interest in Windsor so people can make their travel plans for the fall,” she said.
You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @BillSwindell.