Hotels in Sonoma County experienced a simultaneous increase in bookings and cancellations in the past week due to the Kincade Fire.
Last Monday, the wildfire had forced nearly 200,000 people from their homes. Many sought nearby hotels as temporary refuges, leading to full occupancy rates at the hotel establishments which remained in operation despite of the fire.
“About 50% of our guests currently are evacuees, and we are now operating at full capacity — which is unusual for weekdays — and hence have had to turn away some people,” said Patricia Burnside, innkeeper at the Sonoma Hotel, on Oct. 29. She estimated that the hotel saw an increase of 40% in guests Monday and Tuesday last week, though weekdays are typically quieter.
Evacuees turned to hotels in their time of need, and more than 30 businesses responded to the heightened demand by lowering room rates for Kincade Fire evacuees and first responders. A full list of the hotels can be accessed through the Hotel Council of San Francisco’s website.
At the Hotel Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, around 60% of its occupants were evacuees, and the 226-room establishment was at full capacity.
“We have also lowered prices for evacuees’ rates — currently it’s about $199 per night for a room, whereas the normal rates are usually almost double that,” explains Adrian Silva, a front desk agent at the Hotel Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa on Oct. 29.
Yet even as a surge of last-minute bookings flooded hotels in Northern California, so did a flurry of cancellations.
“While we are taking in a lot of evacuees, we are also receiving a significant number of cancellations for previous reservations— there have been at least 100 cancellations in the past couple of days,” said Silva.
“The numbers balance out,” agreed Burnside, who added that the Sonoma Hotel waived last minute cancellation fees given the circumstances of the fire, which made individuals more cautious about traveling to the area.
Tourism is a large industry in Napa and Sonoma County. According to the Visit Napa Valley, the official tourism organization for Napa County, tourism brought $2.23 billion in total visitor spending in 2018, almost 70 percent of which comes from overnight hotel guests. Sonoma County Tourism, the official destination marketing organization for the county, cites that 22,330 jobs were hospitality employment in 2018, making tourism one of the largest employers in the county.
Double Tree by Hilton Sonoma County did not close nor lose power. The hotel experienced several cancellations throughout the week and also welcomed some evacuees.
“We were very fortunate,” Steve Jung, general manager at Double Tree, said.
Auberge du Soleil, a five-star hotel in Napa County, had some indirect impact from the wildfires. Most were due to the PG&E power shutdowns, which happened the first week of October. During that time, the hotel lost power in the main house and rooms, and the hot water did not flow properly through its pump system.
After that initial power outage, the hotel bought generators.
Jeff Hook, guest services manager, said there were guests who canceled or left early due to the power loss. Overall, the “impact from fires were not that great,” Hook said.
Hot air balloon companies in the counties were also operating during the fires. Napa Valley Aloft Balloon Rides had to cancel one day due to strong winds, but it was not because of fires.
At least three hotels had suspended normal operations and evacuated due to the Kincade Fire. Airbnb activated its Open Homes program, a listing of members making housing and shelter available to Kincade Fire evacuees for free.