Call to Arms
crises forces area tourism
businesses to take action
versatility cited as keys to survival
(May 2009) Walk past the Madison Fudge Factory
any day of the week, and not only will you smell the wafting aroma of
baking goodies, but you will probably see the shop full of women talking,
laughing and having fun as they bake treats to take home.
The Madison Fudge Factory, 630 W. Main St., is not taking the current
economic crisis lightly. Instead, the homemade fudge maker has teamed
with the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau staff to offer
out-of-town tour groups a unique experience at its shop.
When the world economy tanked in 2008, Madisons businesses and
industries also took their share of punches. Some, however, are fighting
back with aggressive strategies and creative ideas to attract customers.
Many say the strategy is working.
do not expect doom and gloom, but we do understand we will be
Linda Lytle, tourism director
The economic news is grim. The financial markets are roiling;
the real estate market has been rocked and the U.S. automotive industrys
future has never seemed bleaker. The United States is preparing Chrysler
Corp. for bankruptcy, while General Motors has announced it will shut
down 13 U.S. plants for up to 11 weeks.
Over the past 12 months, The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports
the number of unemployed people nationally has grown by 5.3 million
to 13.2 million. The national unemployment rate has risen 3.4 percent
to 8.5 percent. Since December 2007, 5.1 million jobs were lost; two-thirds
of those, or 3.3 million, were lost in just the past five months.
In Indiana, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was at 10.0 percent
at the end of March. That ranks higher than the national rate, according
to the states www.hoosierdata.in.gov website.
In Jefferson County, Ind., things are even worse: In March, the unemployment
rate stood at 11 percent. A year ago in March, the unemployment rate
was 5.8 percent.
Because tourism in Indiana generates more than $725 million in sales
tax revenue for the state each year, and the tourism industry employs
more than 250,000 Hoosiers, tourism officials are worried about the
effects of the economic crisis on tourism. Tourism is one of the largest
contributors to the areas economy.
by Don Ward
Steve Pullias plays guitar
with a friend outside his Madison
Music Center during a recent Art Jam.
Of course, we are concerned about the downturn on
Madisons tourism, said Steve Thomas, president of the Jefferson
County Board of Tourism and himself the owner of a business that caters
to tourists Thomas Family Winery. We feel, however, that
Madison is going to fare better than many places because of the type
of tourists we get.
Madison has become a day-trip destination for visitors from
three nearby metropolitan areas Indianapolis, Louisville and
Cincinnati. The citys nationally known historic sites, Clifty
Falls State Park and unique downtown shopping combine to offer visitors
with a popular spot for short getaways.
We dont see the massive high volume numbers that other places
may see, said Thomas. Instead, we have the high-quality
tourists who come through here. We believe they will continue to do
At the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, officials are working
on initiatives to help supplement any loss of revenue from a possible
drop in innskeepers tax revenue. Lodgings in the county pay a monthly
innskeepers tax, which supports tourism. The money is collected
at the state and then sent to the county via the Jefferson County Board
possibilities are endless, and we are going to take advantage
Crystal Fulton, Madison Mercantile
Many hotels in the area report a plunge in occupation
in the past few months, according to reports at the monthly CVB and
JCBT meetings. At the Holiday Inn Express, 300 Franks Dr., on Madisons
hilltop, General Manager Renie Stephens said weekdays for her hotel,
which attract corporate clients, are down just slightly, but weekends
have declined sharply.
Every day we brainstorm to work on new ideas, she said.
We have plans in the works, and I am sure other hotels are working
just as hard, too.
The Holiday Inn Express and other hotels have worked with the CVB to
devise special packages, many of which include incentives and gifts
from local businesses, to offer to groups and other visitors.
CVB Executive Director Linda Lytle said the money for the 2009 budget
may already be in the bank, but her office was going to be cautious
and look at ways to supplement the budget for the future. There
is anxiety, but we are being optimistic, she said. We do
not expect gloom and doom, but we do understand we will be hit.
She said that in 2001, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, many tourism
departments across the country were severely affected. We expected
dramatic things to happen in 2002, she said. In lots of
places, they did happen. It didnt happen here, though.
Lytle said Madisons reputation as a drive-to destination
may have helped insulate it from the impacts from terrorism. She believes
it will work for the community again over the next few years, which
are expected to be rough.
In fact, Indiana Universitys Kelley School of Business has forecasted
that while the recession should end by second half of this year, the
recession will hit Indiana hard over the next year and a half.
Already, the CVB has launched new events that could become
annual attractions and is creating opportunities that will attract group
tours to the area. Group tours play a major role in Madisons tourism
The March 22 Taste of Madison daylong event at Clifty Falls
State Park was created as a way to showcase the countys food and
beverage businesses. The event went well, and we were pleased
with the turnout, said Lytle. All of the feedback we got
was positive, so we are going to go ahead and add it to next years
The CVB staff member Marci Jones said her office has recently been looking
at some new things for groups. In April, the areas bed and
breakfasts held an open house to allow the public to view what is available
for lodging in the county. Many area residents took advantage of that
opportunity and were surprised at the quality of lodging they found
but never realized existed in this area, said Lytle.
For two weekends in May, groups of tour operators have been invited
to come to Madison to see what kinds of opportunities are available
for their group tours. We have worked with lots of area businesses
and have come up with exciting and fun things for the tour operators
to see while they are here, said Jones.
The Madison Fudge Factory is one of the businesses who jumped at the
chance to attract new customers.
by Don Ward
artist Lillie Wingham
paints on Main Street during a
recent Friday Night Art Jam.
Betty Todd, who manages the Madison Fudge Factory for
owner Jim Grant, said that when business dropped significantly, they
realized they needed to work smarter, not harder.
She said they created the Girls Getaway day for groups,
and expanded many of their lines and services. You have to change
with the times, and be up-to-date if you want to survive this,
In the new program, small groups of guests are invited to spend a few
hours making fudge, pulling taffy or even baking dessert breads. Whatever
they want to do, we will provide it, said Todd. Our business
is in the business of pampering people. Theres nothing like a
piece of fresh-baked fudge to make you feel better.
Bend, yield and adapt, is Crystal Fultons motto for
surviving tough economic times. Crystal and John Fulton own Madison
Mercantile, 220 W. Main St. and the Mad Merc Café, located inside
the store. The company offers an extensive line of home interior products,
including gourmet kitchen wares, handcrafted furniture and interior
Were optimists; we expand in different areas when the opportunity
becomes available, said Fulton. Madisons possibilities
are endless, and we are going to take advantage of that.
She said her company has noticed the economic downturn, but she has
learned to not listen to the dire predictions and pessimistic attitudes
projected by the news industry. Our forefathers came to this country
with absolutely nothing, she said. They didnt let
anything get them down.
Her company has also joined with the CVB to offer cooking classes to
group tours. When the tour operators arrive, they will visit Madison
Mercantile and be treated to cooking classes, a lunch and multi-phased
demonstrations. Whatever the group wants to cook, we will put
together, she said.
Fultons cooking classes, which have become extremely popular,
arose out of slack time in the Merc Café. We had this wonderful
restaurant just sitting empty at times, said Fulton. I realized
we could fill it up with guests who are interested in cooking, so I
opened up my cooking classes.
Other tourism-based businesses are also strategizing and
brainstorming for new ways to attract customers.
stores report sales are normal, while others arent even
close to last years levels."
Bob Ems, Madison Main Street Progam
At Historic Madison Inc. Executive Director John Staicer
said it was too early to tell what kind of season 2009 would shape up
to be. The four touring museum sites the organization owns and operates
opened in mid-April and stay open through October.
We are trying to do things differently to keep visitors coming
to our sites, he said. We have a few things in the pipeline
that we are working on. This season, HMI will open the newly restored
Francis Costigan House and the Sullivan House, which was damaged during
the September 2008 windstorm caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ike.
Weve changed the third-floor exhibit at the Sullivan House
to make it interesting for those who have already seen the home.
Meanwhile, Dick Davis, the Department of Natural Resources naturalist
at Clifty Falls State Park, said annually the park attracts more than
450,000 visitors. It is too early to tell what effect the economic
collapse will have on our tourist season, he said. Traditionally,
however, when the nation is under tremendous stress, people flock to
parks. My sense of things after 30 years of experience is that tradition
He said that at this point, his benchmark programs have seen nothing
dramatic in terms of attendance, but the park campground has experienced
a tremendous increase over the past few seasons.
Lanier Mansion State Historic Site, a DNR-owned property in Madison,
is the countys top tourist attraction. Site Manager Gerry Reilly
said that visitation dropped 11 percent in 2008 from 2007, but already
in 2009, visitation is up slightly.
Places like Madison may do well because people are looking for
comfort and not traveling as far, he said. He has added new programs
at the historic home and believes that the Madison Bicentennial Celebration
in mid-June will attract a much bigger draw for the annual Lanier
At the annual event, scheduled for June 13-14 this year, visitors can
experience period re-enactments, listen to period stories, participate
in childrens activities, see artisans demonstrating 19th century
trades, hear period music and view a display of Civil War weaponry.
by Don Ward
Lanier Mansion State Historic
Site ranks among Madisons
most visited attractions.
The Madison Bicentennial Celebration has scheduled its
200-hour birthday party during the week of June 6-14. Potentially, thousands
of guests could arrive in the city.
Madison Main Street Program is an organization that teams with downtown
business owners and residents to provide support and assistance for
preserving and renovating historic buildings and also helps to enhance
retail sales through guidance in design and marketing.
This year, the program was responsible for organizing the 200-hour party
of the Madison Bicentennial Celebration. Bob Ems, the organizations
board president, said he believes the Madison Bicentennial Celebration
will be a major shot in the arm for retailers.
The effects of the economic crisis have been very spotty,
he said. Many stores report sales are close to normal, while others
arent even close to last years levels. But there is no pattern
to who is affected.
He said all retailers have noticed that shoppers have tightened
their discretionary spending and are looking for bargains. In
an effort to combat that trend, retailers have become far more aggressive
in pursuing new ideas and strategies.
Its called gorilla marketing, and if retailers
can keep that mentality when business picks up, they should begin to
generate excess revenue, he said. That could be the silver
lining in all of this.
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