Sonoma County Tourism BIA Revision: Responsible Tourism Assessment

Dear Sonoma County Partners:

This letter is to let you know that Sonoma County Tourism is suspending its proposed revision of the BIA initiative.

Over the past several years, Sonoma County Tourism has been working to ensure it has the budget needed to effectively market Sonoma County amidst growing competition from California wine regions and the impact of a variety of crises. We looked at a number of options for securing these additional funds all of which are meant to drive business and increase awareness of our unique region.

We spent hundreds of hours talking with current and potential partners representing a wide variety of lodging properties including the vacation rental sector. We also talked with elected officials in municipalities across the county. In all cases our message was the same: Sonoma County Tourism exists to benefit businesses, small and large. All businesses benefit from the world-class collective offerings across the county. Sonoma County Tourism showcases this area as a place that welcomes everyone with the welcome mat out for all travelers who want to be here responsibly – with a commitment to protecting and preserving the region for generations.

As many of you are well aware, Sonoma County, and the vacation rental industry, fared well during the pandemic. Many of you have reported hosting people from the Bay Area who escaped the city to work and live in our area – even when traditional lodging was shuttered. We pulled out of the pandemic with a robust start to the year. Our research shows the first half of 2022 was one of the most successful in history. During this year, the cost to travel to Sonoma County has increased – it has increased everywhere. Many of you told us that price was critically important to your guests. We don’t see that price sensitivity across the board, but you certainly know your guests and we respect that.

It's with this foundation we continued down the road of asking lodging entities with annual revenues under $350,000 to participate in the Business Improvement Area (BIA), a program created through the California Streets and Highways code and Prop 26 as a special benefit area. Through this program, funds must benefit the payors. Much has been made about this being an additional tax. While a tax and an assessment both require the payment of money, assessments are self-imposed and must specifically benefit the payers. Taxes, like the TOT, can be used for any general fund purpose. So, BIA funds can only be administered as a benefit to the payers. Please do know that Sonoma County Tourism recognizes the responsibility this places on the organization. Please see the instructional videos below to better understand the details regarding BIA and TOT.

We moved along according to the process outlined in the statute and the feedback has been largely positive. We knew this would require an educational process, we also thought the input we had received represented the various industry sectors. We most definitely underestimated the frustration of the vacation rental industry around a number of issues, and this seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Because of this, Sonoma County Tourism is suspending its initiative to include properties with an annual revenue of less than $350,000 in the BIA. We heard the feedback provided during the town halls and other discussions, and in emails received into the organization. While we’re suspending the initiative, we’re not ending it. We hope this effort will continue in a way that best meets the needs of our property owners/managers and create a more collaborative working relationship. To help ensure this occurs, we will continue to move forward with a few of the components outlined within the Benefits portion of the presentations given throughout this process We hope the vacation rental community will do its part to engage with Sonoma County Tourism in a way that provides a strategic approach to a mutually beneficial working partnership.

To move this forward, SCT welcomes the vacation rental community to engage with us in several initiatives available today and in the near future:

Today SCT will:

  • Notify properties that currently pay TOT to upload information into the Hospitality Hub – feeding both the Book Hotels & Lodging section and the general content pages of the website. Current information and images in the Hospitality Hub is where SCT finds information for all marketing programming and we welcome all within the parameters outlined on our website to upload information and images today!

In 2023 SCT will:

  • Develop a vacation rental committee comprised of property owners and managers with properties that currently pay TOT or BIA that funnels into Sonoma County Tourism. This group will help provide insights to SCT and work to create sector-wide synergies. This group will not be able to advocate for policies or regulations, but will work on marketing and messaging that can help bolster business.
  • Work to ensure vacation rentals have opportunities to book and be featured on SonomaCounty.com. This will be integrated as SCT undergoes a website redevelopment during 2023.

Through this initiative, SCT was able to gain valuable contact information for the vacation rental community. To help us help you, please provide additional contact information including your email address in one of two ways:

1. Within the Hospitality Hub, if your property is either currently paying into the BIA or in the unincorporated area of Sonoma County and paying into the TOT. Access to this database can be found here: https://www.sonomacounty.com/partners/portal.

2. Through [email protected] As this will come from your email address, please provide your full contact details within the email. Please include:

  • Contact Name
  • Business Name
  • Address for the Vacation Rental or Lodging Property
  • Ownership address (if applicable)
  • Best Contact Phone Number – may be used during a crisis, so please do provide a number that will connect us with a responsible caretaker
  • Email address
  • Website

We also encourage you to sign-up for SCT’s partner emails. This will help you stay abreast of SCT’s programs and opportunities, useful research and statistical data and general information of use to the tourism industry. Sign-up is easy, simply go to: Industry E-Newsletters | SonomaCounty.com

More information and opportunities will come as we further consult with your community. For those of you who supported this initiative – thank you. We know there are many of you.

For those who voiced opposition, please know you were heard. As a not-for-profit organization, Sonoma County Tourism exists only to benefit the hospitality industry, our residents and the visitors you serve. We will continue to work toward creating opportunities that benefit all partners. 

Best Wishes,

Claudia Vecchio and the SCT Team

For questions please contact Sonoma County Tourism at [email protected] or by calling 707-522-5800. 

Sonoma County Tourism recently held two Town Halls to gain insight from the vacation rental community about the revision to the Sonoma County Tourism Business Improvement Area (BIA). The recordings are available:

First Town Hall: October 25th at 6:00 pm 

To View a Recording of the October 25th Town Hall, click here.

Second Town Hall: October 27th at 12:00 pm  

To View a Recording of the October 27th Town Hall, click here.

Understanding TOT & BIA