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Sonoma County greenlights return of tourist lodging

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Graton Resort and Casino will begin a phased reopening Thursday, June 18. Photo: Courtesy Graton Resort and Casino
Graton Resort and Casino will begin a phased reopening Thursday, June 18. Photo: Courtesy Graton Resort and Casino  

To the relief of Sonoma County hotel operators who were forced to close their doors to tourists in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, officials in the North Bay county have given the greenlight to the travel lodging industry to reopen Friday.

The decision by the county's health officer to reopen the region for travelers visiting from outside the county on June 19 had been sought by business and tourist leaders, as the Bay Area Reporter reported last week. Eagerly awaiting the lifting of the hotel restrictions have been resort operators in the gay-friendly Russian River area around the town of Guerneville.

Tourism officials in the county hailed the news announced Wednesday (June 17). It followed the lifting of restrictions last Friday on winery tasting rooms in Sonoma County that were allowed to open without the need to also be serving food.

"This marks a tremendous step forward," stated Claudia Vecchio, president/CEO of Sonoma County Tourism. "The tourism industry has taken a significant economic hit during the past three months and we're very glad the time has come to welcome visitors for 'Life Opens Up' experiences."

The tourism group has created a Safe Travels Promise initiative that encourages visitors to "Be smart. Be safe. Be kind. Stay healthy." It is rolling it out at business locations throughout the county, on billboards, and on postcards and bookmarks.

It is also rolling out a new marketing campaign titled "Life Opens Up" that is targeted at visitors from "in drive markets" in Northern California who are within a few hours' drive of Sonoma County and are looking to "nearcation" this summer. Visitor information can be found at https://www.sonomacounty.com/life-opens-up.

"The pandemic has dealt the local lodging industry its worst loss in the region's history," stated Steve Jung, general manager of the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Sonoma Wine Country and chair of the Sonoma County Tourism board of directors. "While some lodging facilities have remained open to house essential travelers, this destination is built around the leisure traveler. This marks an important opportunity to reinvigorate the County's economy and get Sonoma Countians back to work."

A number of LGBT-focused resorts in Guerneville, which is marking its 150th anniversary this year, had told the B.A.R. they planned to reopen as soon as the county gave them the go-ahead. They will do so with new cleansing protocols and rules in place aimed at keeping both guests and staff safe and protected from contracting the virus.

On its Facebook page the R3 Hotel posted a note Tuesday, June 16, saying that it would begin renting its rooms at Noon Friday. It also plans to have its pool bar and Betty Spaghetti restaurant open that day.

Lynette McLean and her husband, Ken, the owners of the Highlands Resort, posted to their website that they will reopen July 1. They added a special page on their website laying out the new rules, check-in process, and cleaning protocols that they are instituting. They bought a desk to use for outside check-ins and are adding a protective cover to it for staff and guests.

They cut in half the 10 campsites they will be renting out so there is enough space between the remaining five. For their 14 guest rooms, one fewer than in previous years, they will not be allowing single-night stays for the time being due to the extra cleaning involved, which McLean said guests will not be charged extra for.

"We will have a two-night minimum through the summer on both weekdays and weekends," she said.

Opening Friday is Johnson's Beach for the first time this season ahead of the Father's Day holiday. The beach area will open first, and the resort's campground and cabins will open Friday, June 26.

"We thrilled to report that we have received the green light from the county which allows us to reopen. YAY!" noted the resort on its website.

But it will no longer be able to accommodate the upward of 1,000 people per day it normally sees in the summer and will be chalking out rows of beach spots available only by advance reservation. Those closest to the river will cost $30, middle row spots will run $20, and those further back will cost $10; all come with an umbrella.

"We can't create a socially distant environment that can accommodate that many people," owner Dan Poirier had told the B.A.R. last week.

Thursday Graton Resort and Casino will begin a phased reopening at 8 a.m., several months after being shuttered due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Greg Sarris, a gay man who's tribal chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, said he and his team worked closely with state and Sonoma County health officials to institute a number of new policies and procedures — introduced in phases — to keep both guests and workers safe.

The casino, located in Rohnert Park, first opened in 2013. A hotel was added about three years later, and its website currently has rooms listed as available starting Sunday, June 21. Changes include thermal cameras, electrostatic sprayers, physical distancing, hand sanitizers, and appropriate distancing at slot machines and table games.

Additionally, face coverings are required for guests and staff at all times.

The restaurants and bars will be open with modified reduced seating capacity; cocktail service and room service are both available.

Concerts and entertainment have been canceled. The salon and spa, fitness center, and valet are temporarily suspended. Bus service from select Bay Area cities will resume June 29.

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