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Editor’s note: The St. Helena Star, a sister paper to The Weekly Calistogan, wrote this editorial.

The fires were awful, but there are lots of ways to help the victims. And, by the way, the Napa Valley is open for business.

We’ve been hearing the first part of that message for weeks now. But as soon as the smoke cleared, local businesses and Visit Napa Valley – the local tourism marketing organization — started adding that second bit.

The alacrity with which the message changed is a testament to the marketing savvy of local hotels and wineries. It’s also a good sign for those of us hoping for a quick economic rebound.

It’s still too early to tally the economic impact of last month’s fires, said Clay Gregory, president and CEO of Visit Napa Valley. Self-assessments collected by the Tourism Improvement District, which are tied to hotel revenues, could be down 9 to 12 percent for the quarter, and 50 percent down for the catastrophic last three weeks of October.

To minimize the damage, Gregory and his team are waging a major marketing campaign to spread the word that the Napa Valley is open for business. They’re using online, social media, splashy PR-inspired articles in major newspapers and tourism-oriented magazines, and ads in the San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee and Napa Valley Register.

If you’re in the target market, chances are you’ve gotten the word that the vineyards on the valley floor are as pristine and photogenic as ever, and the vast majority of the valley’s tourist-serving businesses were untouched by the fires.

It’s a positive reminder that the entire Napa Valley wasn’t reduced to the charred landscapes the world saw on the news. It’s not a Pollyanna-ish message either, since Visit Napa Valley is promoting the various fundraisers and promotions aiding fire relief efforts.

Like it or not, our economy relies on tourism, so a resurgent tourist economy is in all of our best interests. Tourism gets a bad rap from many locals, but it will be interesting to see whether anyone changes their mind after seeing the shuttered shops and restaurants and eerily vacant streets during the first week of the fires. That ghost town was what St. Helena would look like minus tourism (and plus a lot of smoke).

The economic impact of tourism is easy to quantify: $1.9 billion last year from 3.5 million visitors to Napa County.

Those who stay in hotels spend an average of $840 per day per person. Their average age is now under 50, down from closer to 60 not too many years ago. Daytrippers tend to be even younger, about 40, and spend about $357 a day.

Gregory rattled off a few statistics that surprised us. For example, he said 77.4 percent of people who work in lodging live in Napa County. That’s a headscratcher considering how much inter-county traffic we see, but Gregory stands by the figure.

We’d already known that China had surpassed Canada as the valley’s top international market, and it was encouraging to hear that Chinese tourists are still moving away from the tour buses of the past and opting for more intimate family vacations.

We hope that even in China, the message is reverberating that the Napa Valley is open for business and ready to welcome the world with open arms.

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