The fires came and the visitors didn’t.
Because of the wildfires, hotel revenue in Napa County dropped a reported 36 percent in October, compared to the same month a year earlier.
The average daily room rate dipped 19 percent and occupancy sank 22 percent, according to data from Smith Travel Research. This will mean reduced hotel tax revenue to local government.
“Our numbers are definitely down in response to all this,” said Cody McClain, manager of the Best Western Plus Stevenson Manor in Calistoga. “We lost a lot of revenue in October,” especially during the five days the entire city was closed due to fire damage.
Many reservations were also canceled for the rest of October and into November. That includes not only hotel rooms but reservations for other activities in the area, McClain said.
Visitors are still asking about the impact of the fires today, he said. “Did the hotel burn down? Is Calistoga still standing? Is everyone open? Are we covered in ash?”
“People are worried, and rightfully so. However, everything is perfect here. We’re not burnt out. We’re ready to welcome everybody back.”
Mary Haney, manager and longtime staffer at the Hotel St. Helena, said that her hotel had cancellations after the fire and revenue is down.
By November, business had picked up a bit, but she still gets similar questions from callers: “Is it safe to come up here? Is everything open? Are the wineries open?”
The hotel business will recover, Haney said. “I just think it takes a little time to get back people’s confidence. It’s very important that we advertise we’re OK up here in the Napa Valley. The restaurants and wineries and hotels are open and we welcome everyone back up to Napa Valley. And we’re stronger than ever before.”
Don Shindle, general manager of the Napa Westin Verasa, said that a number of groups and visitors cancelled their plans to visit the hotel after the fires. “We were definitely down in revenue,” he said.
However, those available hotel rooms were put to good use for evacuees, PG&E and Cal Fire workers, officials said.
Come early November, two key events—Live in the Vineyard and the Napa Valley Film Festival – got the hotel back on track, Shindle said.
Today, “We’re back in business,” he said.
The tourists returning is the best thing they can do to support the fire recovery, Shindle said. “Keep coming back. Keep contributing to our economy.”
Karen Dimino, the new general manager at Hotel Indigo, formerly known as the Ivy Hotel Napa, said her property had cancellations, “but we did house a lot of the Nationwide folks and PG&E folks” working on fire recovery, “and that was able to sustain us.”
When callers ask about the fires, “We try to reassure them (that) Napa is up and running again,” she said.
“We’re trying to be more positive and welcoming. It takes a little bit of educating on the phone. There are still lovely places to visit.”
A decline in hotel revenue means that the amount of transient occupancy tax (TOT) that Napa County cities and the unincorporated area receive will also drop.
Visitors who stay overnight in Napa County cities or unincorporated areas pay a 12 percent TOT on their hotel bill.
According to Napa County Auditor Controller Tracy Schulze, the unincorporated area expected to receive $13 million in TOT revenue this fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2018.
Due to the fires, “We’re estimating about $1.5 million less in TOT revenues,” she said.
Brian Cochran, the city of Napa’s finance director, said the city had expected to receive $19.5 million in TOT this fiscal year. He estimated that city hotel revenue would be down about 13 percent in October.
In October 2016, the city received $2.2 million in TOT. A 13 percent drop would be about $286,000 — “a small slice” of the city’s general fund budget of $92.4 million, Cochran said.
Angela Jackson, director, media relations with Visit Napa Valley, said the Smith Travel Research lodging statistics from October may be skewed, given that some rooms were provided for free or at greatly discounted rates to first responders and fire evacuees.
Based on what she’s heard, Jackson said November hotel statistics “will be stronger than anticipated.”
“Part of that is that we were very successful getting the word out – to help Napa Valley, come stay in our hotels. And people did that.”
For example, on Friday Nov. 3, the average daily room rate in Napa County was $400.27, she said. On three other days in November, the rate was in the high $300s per night.
For a total of nine days in November, occupancy was over 80 percent, and one Saturday night occupancy was at 91 percent, Jackson noted.
Jackson said she’s anticipating December lodging numbers to be higher than in past years. “I think people want to come up and continue to help” with the recovery, she said.