Greg Guerrazzi wants North Bay tourists to take a hike, one that could lead them past beaches, redwoods and wineries, with stays each night at upscale inns and hotels.
Through his family-owned Wine Country Trekking, Guerrazzi offers “European style” walking and running adventures around the region to such iconic vistas as Muir Woods, Jack London State Historic Park, the Napa Valley and soon Bodega Bay. For these self-guided trips he will shuttle your luggage to your next accommodation, arrange breakfasts and lunches and provide detailed itineraries and maps with photos of those spots where you might wonder which fork to take in the trail.
“Honeymooners just love it,” he said of the various walking trips, which start at about $1,300 in summer for three or four nights. And while adventurous baby boomers make up part of his clientele, the future looks even brighter because “the next generation is definitely more active.”
The Glen Ellen-based business is another example of the region’s growing hospitality sector, which in Sonoma County employs about one in every 10 workers. While some businesses experienced temporary reductions in tourists due to last fall’s devastating wildfires, their outlook for the summer travel season is generally upbeat.
Tourism was among the first segments of the county’s economy to rebound after the recession. The lodging industry in particular has enjoyed eight years of growth, often amounting to double- digit gains from prior years.
And over the past decade the hospitality sector has benefited from a range of new offerings that regularly draw significant crowds to the area. They include the 6-year-old Green Music Center and its world-class symphony hall at Sonoma State University; Levi’s Granfondo, a cycling ride that attracts thousands and this fall will include a three-day festival in downtown Santa Rosa; and Russian River Brewing Co.’s annual release of Pliny the Younger, reputed to be one of the best beers in the world. Pliny’s latest release in February pumped an estimated $3.3 million into the local economy as guests lined up in downtown Santa Rosa for the chance to partake.
The travel sector contributed nearly $2.1 billion to the county economy last year, an increase of 2.3 percent from a year earlier, according to Sonoma County Tourism, the county’s official travel marketing organization. That impact included nearly $178 million in state and local taxes.
Enter the October wildfires, the most destructive infernos in state history. The blazes claimed 40 lives in a four-county region and burned 6,200 homes. Residential insurance claims have exceeded $9 billion.
The fires had different impacts on different parts of the hospitality sector. Hotels quickly filled, first with fire evacuees and soon thereafter with those who came to offer aid and begin cleanup operations.
The extra business has carried over into 2018. Hotel revenue for the first quarter jumped 26.2 percent to $67 million, according to travel research company STR, which tracks nearly 6,300 rooms in the county. The average daily room rate for that period increased 12 percent to $154.56. The average occupancy rate rose to 76.7 percent, compared to 67.2 percent a year earlier.
The county’s hotels are expected to house construction workers for the next several years as rebuilding takes place. But lodging managers report a shift toward travelers as the summer season approaches, said Sonoma County Tourism President/CEO Claudia Vecchio.