Marin Tourism Continues Recovery

Tourism, an important sector of the Marin economy, continued to strengthen in 2012 as the number of visitors staying in Marin hotels increased for a second consecutive year, following a slump in 2009 and 2010.

Marin's hotel room occupancy rate rose to 73 percent in 2012 from about 69 percent in 2011, said Mark Essman, chief executive at the Marin County Visitors Bureau. Essman said the occupancy rate in 2010 was approximately 66 percent.

The average daily room rate at Marin's hotels increased to $129.28 in 2012, from $122.57 in 2011. In 2010, the average daily room rate fell to $125.76, from $132.20, in 2009.

Essman said, "2009 seemed artificially strong because there was already really good business on the books; but most of that business was booked several years prior when everything was booming."

In 2012, hotel room revenue rose to about $68.3 million, up more than 11 percent from $61.3 million the previous year.

Essman attributed the overall improvement in 2012 to a somewhat healthier national economy.

"People just have a little more money to spend and wanted to get out and start enjoying things again," Essman said.

The lodging and hospitality industry employs nearly 7,000 people in Marin, making it one of the largest employment sectors in the county. Total spending by visitors to Marin amounted to $640 million in 2011.

Bill Blackburn, general manager of the Best Western Corte Madera Inn, said 2012 was also a good year for his hotel.

"San Francisco seems to be experiencing growth in terms of conventions and leisure visitors," Blackburn said. "That typically spills out to Marin."

Blackburn said the uptick in the economy has released a "pent-up desire to travel." Still, he said, "I think people are traveling relatively close to their homes, within about a three-hour drive."

Blackburn said as hotel room rates have increased in San Francisco, due in part to demand created by a multitude of special events there. Marin hotels have become an attractive bargain.

"For example," Blackburn said. "I think every hotel in Marin has free parking. You don't find that in San Francisco."

In addition, he said visitors staying in Marin have easy access to San Francisco via ferry boats and are just a short drive away from Napa County's wine country.

Tim Howard, general manager of the Courtyard by Marriott, Novato, said his hotel's business has been on the upswing since 2011.

"It has been a good balance between our business customers coming back and our leisure customers staying strong," Howard said. "January was very good. We started off the year very well, although February has been a little softer."

Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at ___

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