With smoke from California wildfires having blanketed the valley for more than a week, Napa visitors found themselves looking to buy breathing masks as well as wine.
But whether or not that smoke has impacted tourism remains to be seen, said visitor experts.
“We won’t have November (hotel occupancy) reports until late next month, but generally while the Napa Valley Welcome Center received a few calls from individuals pertaining to the fires in Butte County, we have not been informed of any cancellations,” said Lisa Poppen, vice president marketing and communications at Visit Napa Valley.
“We’re hearing it; we know it’s a discussion point for sure,” said Angie Pappas of Visit California. “We’re hoping with things improving with some rain, we’ll be in better shape next week.”
“It’s been hard with the fires so active to know” what the final impact will be, but “we’re tracking (lodging) occupancy levels monthly and so I’m hoping we’ll have a better sense in the next few weeks,” said Pappas.
In California, “I think people are no stranger” to smoke but this period of smoke and haze was sustained, she said. “You could see it and smell it and it blanketed the Bay Area.”
Due to the air quality, a number of Napa County events were cancelled in November, including the Nov. 11 Napa Valley Harvest half marathon, 5K and 10K race and various football playoff games.
Speaking anecdotally, the news coverage of the air quality and smoke certainly went global, Pappas said.
“I talked to someone in our Italy office and she saw the news of the air quality,” said Pappas.
“I don’t have any confirmed visitation numbers, but common sense would suggest visitors would avoid Napa and California,” said Mike Gallagher, co-founder and co-chair of CityPASS, a ticket package company.
“I hope the prediction of rain for this week will clean the air,” said Gallagher. “Once the coast is clear, the tourists will come back. They know how wonderful the Napa Valley is at this time of year.”
“The Camp Fire, located in Butte County, which is two and a half hours, or 135 miles, northeast of Napa Valley, is now 70 percent contained,” said a statement this past week from Visit Napa Valley. While smoke was visible in Napa County and air quality advisories were issued, “All hotels, wineries, restaurants and attractions in the Napa Valley are welcoming visitors.”
“Air quality across the state is improving,” said Visit California.
“California is a large state, and wildfires in one location typically have no impact outside a limited area,” said the agency. “California’s gateway airports remain open, and flights across the state are operating normally.”
In a news release from this past August, Visit California found that smoke from summer wildfires did lead to an overall decline in visitor travel statewide. According to the tourism agency, 11 percent of travelers said wildfires prompted them to cancel trips to California, representing a loss of $20 million to the state’s tourism economy in July.
The statewide agency also suggested that November through April, referred to as Cabernet Season, “is one of the best times to visit the Napa Valley.”
“It’s a time when the pace slows, lodging rates are a bit lower, and securing a coveted reservation at one of Napa Valley’s restaurants is a bit easier,” said the agency.