Sonoma County's smoking-hot tourism industry appears on pace for another record-setting year, with visitors likely to spend more than a billion dollars on the Wine Country experience, however they define it.
"People said, 'How can we top 2013?' But it's happening," said Jennifer Buffo, owner of Pure Luxury Transportation in Petaluma.
Sonoma County collected a record amount of bed taxes in 2013 even as average room rates increased for another year. At The Farmhouse Inn in Forestville, suites going for $995 a night are gobbled up, reflecting particularly strong growth at the higher-end of the county's tourism market.
The luxury inn is undergoing an expansion that includes seven new rooms and a day spa. Owner Joe Bartolomei said Monday he doesn't anticipate having any trouble filling the additional space.
"Overall, we wouldn't be doing what we're doing if we weren't feeling confident about the future of tourism in Sonoma County," he said Monday.
Visitors to Sonoma County spent $1.55 billion in 2012, up 5.4 percent from 2011 and the most on record since the state began collecting such data in 1992, according to figures released Monday by Visit California.
Statewide, more than 235 million visitors to California spent $109.6 billion in 2013, an all-time high in both actual and inflation-adjusted dollars, according to Visit California. That spending generated more than $7 billion in local and state tax revenues.
Sonoma County continues to be a draw for people who work in technology industries in Silicon Valley and across the Bay Area. The county also for the first time attracted a noteworthy number of international visitors in 2013, in particular from China and Australia.
Ben Stone, executive director of Sonoma County's Economic Development Board, said barring another "tech-wreck," the region is headed for another "very strong," possibly record-setting, year in the tourism industry.
Sonoma County collected a record $27.5 million in bed taxes in 2013 after adjusting for inflation, according to county data.
The economic development board's draft report on the tourism industry found that payroll growth in the county's leisure and hospitality industries stalled since reaching an all-time high in June, a reflection of the way Indian casinos are categorized. Were the new Graton Casino in Rohnert Park factored in, tourism-related payrolls in February would be up 10 percent, as opposed to 1 percent reflected in the data. The casino employs 2,000.
"This marks the continuation of three years of growth in which tourism has outpaced the rest of the economy," the report noted.
Industry experts say the trend reflects the overall health of the economy and Sonoma County becoming better known nationally and internationally as a desirable tourist destination.
Tina Luster, a spokeswoman with the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau, said the group's marketing efforts also are paying off. She credited one program, called Sonoma Sneakaway, with helping to drive up occupancy rates in the off-season months by 23 percent after the program was implemented in 2012.
"We're finding our voice. People are hearing about us," Luster said.
Last month, Sonoma County Vintners led an unprecedented two-week promotional tour in mainland China and Hong Kong to promote interest in the region's wine offerings.