Published on : Monday, December 2, 2019
While visitor numbers has not dropped much, what has affected California tourism marketers is the grappling challenges such as lack of affordable housing for service employees and the need to steer wine tourism away from the popular — and most fire-prone — fall harvest season.
This year was the fifth lightest fire season for California in 25 years. However, there was no loss of life, and just one winery out of many hundreds doused into flames.
Even so, the wildfires have prompted changes in how the state markets and manages tourism, including placing more emphasis on visiting wine regions during the winter and spring. The state is also working to encourage more visitation to lesser-known wine regions such as Paso Robles on the Central Coast and Temecula in Southern California.
What’s encouraging is that the tourism industry is really stepping up by encouraging local politicians to work on issues like affordable housing.
The tourism destination most struggling with the wildfire aftermath is Sonoma County where the Kincade Fire burned over 77,000 acres in October, coming dangerously close to the popular tourist town of Healdsburg and destroying the historic Soda Rock Winery.
The county was still reeling from the far more disastrous Tubbs and Atlas fires of October 2017, which destroyed entire neighbourhoods and two major hotels in Santa Rosa as well as multiple wineries throughout Sonoma County and neighbouring Napa County. (While the Tubbs Fire was the largest wildfire in California history, it was soon eclipsed in 2018 by the Camp Fire, which decimated the Northern California town of Paradise.
After a huge marketing effort in 2018 to shore up its hard-hit tourism industry, visitation was returning to normal just as the Kincade Fire and several days of power shutoffs throughout the county occurred.
Now Sonoma County is launching a Gather in Sonoma initiative, primarily aimed at the drive market, to encourage winter holiday visitation. A more ambitious program called Life Opens Up is positioning Sonoma County as a spring destination for national and international visitors.
Napa Valley, which enjoys greater name recognition than Sonoma and did not suffer the same degree of fire devastation, rebounded more quickly after the 2017 fires. While tourism took a nosedive in late 2017, the destination hosted a record 3.85 million visitors in 2018.