SONOMA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA — Sonoma County Tourism released the results of their Power Shutoff Impact Survey today, providing data on the immediate financial effects of the October 2019 Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) on tourism and hospitality businesses within Sonoma County.

From Oct. 9 to Oct. 11, 2019, Pacific Gas & Electric cut electrical power to multiple jurisdictions in Sonoma County in an effort to reduce the risk of fire related to the utility’s power lines. To gauge the impact of the shutoff on Sonoma County’s tourism industry, Sonoma County Tourism immediately issued a survey to its partners within the lodging, restaurants, wineries, and attractions on Oct. 11.

To obtain critical “during situation” insights, Sonoma County Tourism sent surveys to 2,226 partners consisting of hotels, restaurants, wineries, and attractions to gauge impact to present and future business. By the response deadline of noon, Friday, Oct. 11, two hundred and fifty businesses responded (11.2% response rate). SCT provided the raw data to Dean Runyan Associates who provided the calculations and summary.

“As soon as it was announced power was being cut to a substantial portion of Sonoma County, it was vital for us to reach out to our partners to measure the initial impacts,” said Claudia Vecchio, president/CEO of Sonoma County Tourism. “With more than 80% of Sonoma County’s tourism industry comprised of small businesses (fewer than 25 employees) and very limited operating margins, any disruption to business during the high season can be devastating.”

Of the businesses surveyed, more than 1/3 (36%) closed during the entirety of the power outage. Twenty two percent provided guests with limited services with less than half (42%) remaining fully functional during the outages.

Accommodations impacted by the outages reported an average of 42 lost room nights per property over the three-day period, with the range of lost room nights at hotels as high as 1,000. Based on the average size of Sonoma County properties at 69 rooms, this results in losses totaling more than 50% of real business. Given the average daily rate of Sonoma County hotels at $210 in October, the losses range from $8,800 to $210,000 each for the 16% of total reporting properties. For those properties that had to compensate guests for inconveniences, 51% reported they compensated guests at an average rate of $2,494 per property. 

Tourism-facing businesses reported losing customers because entire trips were cancelled due to the loss of power at the lodging property. This was coupled with the perception that all of Sonoma County was impacted, resulting in loss of business to places such as Bodega Bay that did not experience an outage.  “We were open and not directly affected but customers cancelled reservations and travel plans due to panicky news early in the week,” reported Donna Del Rey, owner, Relish Culinary Adventures in Healdsburg. “This caused a direct loss of more than $1,500 in revenue just that week and unknown more from customers losing confidence in visiting our region in the future.”

 “In a case such as this we experience hard and soft impacts,” says Vecchio.  “Hard impacts are determined through immediate financial losses, which is what this survey is designed to measure. The soft impacts around the perception of Sonoma County are more difficult to quantify, but will appear as we track long-term visitation to the area.”

Seventy three percent of accommodations reported losing an average of 45 future room nights directly because of the power shutoff. Cancellations go beyond the lodging sector. “We’re seeing cancellations of future trips, tours, and events due to concerns over recurrent PG&E outages,” said Randy Johnson, Getaway Adventures. Sonoma County Tourism will track the impact this outage has on future booking through additional surveys.

Revenue losses for the other businesses were also substantial with wineries and attractions reporting an average three-day loss of $1,679, while for restaurants it was $4,700. Additionally, 52% of businesses reported that they continued to pay their employees despite the reduction in services at a mean wage of $2,525.

Major revenue losses occurred not only from reduced patronage but also from ancillary impacts. Forty one percent of businesses reported revenue losses related to purchasing and/or running alternative power, 49% reported losses due to refrigeration-related food spoilage, and 52% reported losses due to the purchase of other supplies used to manage the power shutoff.

“While the total impact of this shutoff on Sonoma County’s hospitality industry requires additional calculation, we believe these early figures provide a good measure of the burden placed on tourism facing businesses as a result of this event,” said Sonoma County Tourism’s marketing systems & insights director, Ariane Hiltebrand.

Sonoma County Tourism collaborated on the survey summaries with Dean Runyan Associates. Dean Runyan provides annual economic impact data for tourism in Sonoma County through a partnership with Visit California.

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Media Contacts

Birgitt Vaughan
Director of Global Media Relations
400 Aviation Blvd., Suite 500
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
[email protected]

About Sonoma County Tourism

Sonoma County Tourism is the official destination stewardship organization for California’s Sonoma County. Tourism generates nearly $2.2 billion annually for the local economy resulting in $193.8 million in tax revenue and supports more than 22,300 jobs. SCT is a private, non-profit marketing and sales organization dedicated to sustaining the hospitality economy in Sonoma County, California.