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By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times

Only hours after the shaking stopped from the biggest quake to hit Napa Valley in 25 years, the phones at Mike Noel’s Napa, Calif., travel agency began to ring. Anxious clients wondered whether the magnitude 6.0 shaker would derail their visit.

“I’ve been telling them that it’s business as usual,” said Noel, who specializes in arranging high-end wine country tours.

Across the valley north of San Francisco, other travel agents, hotel managers, and winemakers are declaring Napa Valley open for business in hopes the quake doesn’t frighten off the 3 million annual visitors who spend $1.4 billion in the region.

With the peak summer season winding down, Napa Valley tourism officials say the effect of the quake should be minimal. Some experts said television footage of broken wine bottles and damaged hotels might even pique long-term interest in the region.

“I wouldn’t underestimate the impact of giving tons of mentions in the news about the area,” said Carl Winston, program director for San Diego State University’s school of hospitality and tourism management.

When Mammoth Mountain was struck by volcanic tremors in 1998, it did little to scare off skiers and snowboarders, Winston said. “In the short term, it is inconvenient but it is far from catastrophic,” he said.

Napa Valley hotel managers say many rooms are booked for the harvest season already and the grape crush in October.

“The crush is about to happen and people are going to come,” said Jeff Perry, general manager of the 59-room Napa Winery Inn, which sustained only cosmetic damage and remains open.

The quake, which struck at 3:20 a.m. Sunday, closed only two of nearly 150 hotels in the valley and damaged about a dozen of the valley’s 500 or so wineries, according to Napa Valley tourism officials. About 90 to 100 homes were labeled unfit to enter, and half a dozen people suffered serious injuries.

Many travelers with upcoming trips to Napa Valley have been calling hotels and wineries to check on the extent of the damage, but few if any have canceled plans, according to hotel managers and local tourism officials.

Ashley Cote, a food and travel blogger from Florida, said she will go ahead with her vacation next week after confirming that her hotel was open and that the quake damage around the valley was minimal.

“The only way we would cancel is if it was unsafe for us to travel,” Cote said. “I have been looking forward to this trip for months and would hate to pass up the opportunity to visit Napa Valley.”

The effect on tourism may be muted because most people visit Napa Valley for only a few hours.

Of Napa Valley’s 3 million annual visitors, about two-thirds drive in for the day from other parts of California, such as San Francisco, according to a 2012 economic impact study by Destination Analysts Inc. The rest of the visitors stay in local hotels and inns.

Visitors spend an average of $459 a day, with overnight guests spending an average of $708 a day, according to the study. Visitors staying with friends or relatives spend an average of $447 a day, while day visitors spend $350.

Tourists spend the biggest share of their money, 35 percent, on shopping, followed by lodging (24 percent), and restaurants (22 percent), the study found. Wine tasting rooms and dining are the most popular activities.

Those worried about quake damage centered around downtown Napa can go to hotels, wineries, and restaurants in towns such as Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga, said Clay Gregory, president and chief executive of Visit Napa Valley.

“There are plenty of things to do in the towns up and down the valley,” he said.

Napa Valley Vintners, a nonprofit trade association, said this year’s weather has been ideal for grapes, marking the third straight year of supreme growing conditions.

The quake did not harm the vineyards or the grapes on the vine, the association said.

“While some individual wineries may experience inventory shortages as a result of the earthquake, it is not expected to have a significant impact on Napa Valley wine inventory in general,” the group said.

Photo via WikiCommons

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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons, a novel and a memoir. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

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