SAN JOSE, Calif.--As the recovery continues from last month's devastating Northern California wildfires, the iconic wine regions are looking to kick-start their important hospitality and tourism industry with a simple message: We are open for business.
The damage to some areas was indeed devastating. In the 22 days from the start of the fires to when they were completely contained, 43 people were killed and thousands of homes and other structures were destroyed. But in this tourism-heavy area, businesses are opening their arms to visitors, saying economic recovery depends on it.
"There is a misperception that everything is gone," said Tim Zahner, chief operating officer of Sonoma County Tourism, but that is not the case. "Sonoma County has more than 1 million acres."
The region has more than 1,200 wineries, and fewer than 10 were heavily damaged, according to a news release from Visit California, the state's tourism and marketing arm. While a slew of businesses across the region were forced to close during the fires -- either because of evacuations, power outages or fire damage -- most tasting rooms have reopened, according to the organization.
"Now we need to do our part to help the recovery," said Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California. "If you're already planning a trip, don't cancel -- Wine Country residents need your business now more than ever."
Rick Corcoran, general manager of The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, said the hotel lost millions of dollars worth of reservations as the fires struck in mid-October -- typically a month that is among the busiest time for the hotel. It first had to evacuate and close the property, then reopened at low rates to house insurance groups and emergency responders. It is now open for the public, but Corcoran fears that the news of the fires is driving away visitors, especially those from outside California who do not know the region well.
"If you looked at news and you were outside of California, you would have perhaps thought Napa and Sonoma were completely devastated, but we wanted to counter that," Corcoran said. Now, he wants to get the word out that the hotel and region are again welcoming visitors.
"We want to put our own people back on their feet. Four of our colleagues lost everything they had," he said. "I feel like I'm responsible for 500 livelihoods."
To draw people back in, the hotel is offering a discounted rate on rooms and spa services, what Corcoran calls its "Sonoma Strong" rates.
"We've made our rates very attractive," Corcoran said. "This would be a great time to come and visit."