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Vacation rental operators could benefit from efforts to boost tourism in wildfire-damaged wine country

  • Nov 21, 2017 | MyLodgeTax

wine country

The devastating wildfires that struck Northern California’s wine country last month will have a lasting impact on the region. But Napa Valley boosters want the public to know that the area’s wine tourism business is back on track and ready to receive visitors. Their efforts to entice tourists back could also be a boon to short-term vacation rental operators in the area.

While many vineyards and properties were damaged in the fires, it’s a misperception that the whole region was completely destroyed or is unsafe, area leaders say.

Nearly 90 percent of the grapes had already been harvested before the fires started, which reduces the impact to this year’s wine production. And many wineries and other tourism-based businesses that sustained damage or closed during the fires have already reopened.

“While we did have clear devastation for individuals,” State Senator Bill Dodd told the Napa Valley Register, “our valley is very, very much in business to serve.” Dodd, along with other local leaders, recently took part in a media event on the Napa Valley Wine Train to get the word out.

As the wildfires raged in October, tourists to the area canceled their travel plans, affecting businesses from wineries to short-term vacation rentals. Ridership on the Napa Valley Wine Train is 80 percent below normal levels, and other visitor numbers are well below normal for what is typically one the busiest times of the year for some local areas.

The drop-off in visitors has a big economic impact on the area, which depends heavily on tourism. California’s wine industry produces 85 percent of all U.S. wines, translating to a $114-billion economic impact. Sonoma and Napa counties are home to 1,100 wineries, and 23.6 million people visited California’s wine country in 2016.

Online short-term rental platform Airbnb had about 3,000 properties listed in the region before the fires started. The company told the Los Angeles Times that it provided information on the fires to hosts, but that cancellations were up to individual hosts.

During the fires, Airbnb activated its Open Homes program, which invites Airbnb hosts to offer up their rentals for free to people in need of housing due to displacement during natural disasters. Airbnb also waives its booking fees for rentals participating in the program.

While lower tourist numbers are affecting vacation rental owners, communities’ concerns about housing supply in the wake of destruction could also have an impact on them.

On Oct. 24, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors imposed a 45-day moratorium on issuing new vacation rental permits amid concerns that vacation rentals are contributing to a housing crisis as prices rise and residents displaced by the fires seek places to live.

Lodging tax rates, rules, and regulations change frequently. Although we hope you'll find this information helpful, this blog is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal or tax advice.
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