Sonoma County Tourism aiming to lure visitors mindful of area’s natural resources

County tourism leaders are launching an effort to attract more visitors who will be mindful of the natural beauty of the region as opposed to the boisterous day-drinking ones that were parodied in the recent movie “Wine Country.”

The initiative is part of Sonoma County Tourism’s bid to promote sustainability and is intended to help protect the county’s natural resources, while maintaining $2.2 billion that the sector generates in annual revenue.

Most notably, the nonprofit tourism agency will move from being a destination marketing organization to a destination stewardship organization. The sales and marketing efforts still will be paramount, but the agency will focus on activities and messaging that promote values around stewardship and responsible travel.

“What this will do … is to create an idea of what a responsible traveler is,” said Claudia Vecchio, CEO of Sonoma County Tourism.

Residents in certain areas such as Sonoma Valley and Westside Road have complained about the influx of wine tourists who they say have brought traffic and noise to their neighborhoods, an issue that the Sonoma County supervisors are grappling with to write new rules.

The tourism agency aims to play a role by focusing on the quality of tourist visits here as opposed to the quantity, Vecchio said. The county has about 10.8 million visitors annually.

“Sonoma County has an extraordinary abundance of natural, agricultural and cultural resources that we as destination stewards must commit to protecting,” Vecchio said.

Tourism leaders are partnering with Kind Traveler, an online travel agent that allows guests to provide a portion of the bookings to local nonprofit organizations. Participating area hospitality properties include the Farmhouse Inn, Timber Cove Resort and Vintners Inn. Local nonprofits that stand to benefit from this sustainable and responsible travel mindset include Redwood Empire Food Bank, Sonoma Land Trust and the Russian Riverkeeper.

The county’s tourism agency also has contracted with a consultant, the Coraggio Group of Portland, Oregon, to develop a destination master plan for Sonoma County. Brainstorming to draft the plan will include community meetings starting in the fall to hear from a wide range of local residents.

The master plan will give the county “the chance to identify and, as much as is possible, control its destiny,” said Steve Jung, board chair of the tourism agency and general manager of the Doubletree by Hilton Sonoma Wine Country in Rohnert Park. “Destinations run into challenges when they allow their future to be managed by outside influencers.”

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