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What Will Summer In Bloomington Look Like? Economic And Hospitality Experts Weigh-In

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>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Welcome to NOON EDITION on WFIU. I'm your host, Bob Zaltsberg, co-host with WFIU, WTIU news bureau chief Sara Wittmeyer. This week, we're talking about what a summer in Bloomington will look like as COVID cases experience a lull. We have four guests with us joining us by Zoom. Again, we're still not back in person. We hope to be soon. We have Mike McAfee, the executive director of Visit Bloomington, Erin Predmore, the president and CEO of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, Stacey Weatherholt is the hospitality director of Oliver Winery, and Zack Malham, who is the host of the Wampler House Bed and Breakfast here in Bloomington. You can follow us on Twitter at @noonedition and you can send us your questions there. You can also send us questions for the show at Thank you all for being here with us today. Always a pleasure to have you on to talk about tourism in our area and hospitality in our area. I want to start with Mike McAfee. Mike, how bad has it been since COVID hit? 

>>MIKE MCAFEE: Hi, Bob. Thanks for having us on, first of all, and I want to say hi to all of my other guests on the show, all great people and it's great to be on the air with them. Zack - haven't seen Zack forever. So just a big shout out to everybody. But, Bob, you know what? We're in Bloomington, Indiana, and - home of the most recession-tough attraction in the Midwest, Indiana University. So I want to give a shout out to Indiana University for the way they have handled COVID-19 and - with the students. It will be - a decade from now, we will be reading case studies. That's the way you do it. So just a huge shout out to them. They have been M - one of the MVPs and have done so much for this community during this time and part of that relates to tourism. But, Bob, we finished last year about 40% down when it comes to visitors and revenue and hotel business, all of that. But it is slowly coming back. We're - we are - we've regained - let's see, I've got some numbers here for you. We're - we've regained about 40% of what we lost last year. We're still trailing way behind 2019 levels, which is kind of our benchmark of what we want to get back to. We do expect to recover to about 80% of those losses by the end of this year, and then it'll take a couple more years to get back that 20% that we've - that we still need to recover to get back to those high levels, if that makes any sense. But, you know, you - as you can imagine, you know, rates are down and things like that. So revenue coming into the market, which creates jobs and all that stuff, is still just lagging a little bit behind. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So, Mike, if you could just give us a little education about what goes into that that main number that you're talking about. So what's the number you start with that you say we're 40% behind? 

>>MIKE MCAFEE: Just the overall expenditures in the market is the way that I - you know, the most thorough way or foolproof way I have of tracking it. So last - you know, innkeeper's tax - we - the county - there's a 5% innkeeper's tax that is collected by anyone who stays in a hotel or a bed and breakfast or an Airbnb in Monroe County. So last year, in 2020, that finished about 40% down from 2019. It - let's just - I'll just round a little bit, it normally collects about $2 million in a year, so just collected a little bit over $1 million last year. And so when I say we - we're regaining that, I'm watching the - I'm watching those monthly collections this year and it's just showing we're up about 40% over where we were last year which, again, trails way behind 2019. I also watch food and beverage expenditures in the market. You know, it's all - what's the number one thing travelers do? They eat, especially in our great market of the culinary destination that we are. In April of '21, the food and beverage expenditures in Monroe County were $27 million versus March, they were 21 - or $25 million. So that's growing a little bit every month. And also if you go back to April of '20, those were only - and I won't to say only, but they were $20 million, so $7 million 2020 - or 2020 versus 2019 was the difference there. Does that help you understand how I track it? 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Yes, absolutely. No, I appreciate that. That helps a lot. So we have people representing the hospitality industry with us, I'm going to go to them next. And then, Erin, we'll bring you in on the broader conversation again. So Stacey Wetherall from Oliver Winery - you know, we've heard a lot about how, you know, people actually did a lot more - or did more drinking during this time because they couldn't do anything else. But I'm sure they probably couldn't come to your winery to do that. But, you know, what - overall, can you give us a sense of what this meant for - you know, for a local winery? 

>>STACEY WEATHERHOLT: Sure, yeah. Thanks for having me on. You know, Oliver, fortunately, has a really helping wholesale side of our business. So as you mentioned, you know, when folks were quarantined, they did do a fair amount of drinking at home, so we were able to get Oliver, you know, to their doorstep or they were able to buy at the local grocery store. But we did close the winery for about 13 weeks. And during that time, we began thinking about how do we reopen and deliver on an experience that is, you know, valuable and meaningful and safe, right? The priority was the safety of the team and the safety of our visitors. And as you can imagine, you know, we see hundreds of thousands of visitors a year here at the winery and trying to deliver on, you know, an authentic Oliver experience in a whole new way. And so we - during the close, we took the opportunity to sit down and sort of re-evaluate what those experiences could be and, upon reopening, really had to pivot and shift in terms of what we were offering. And what was awesome about it was that the - you know, the broader public responded in a really great way. I think people were really eager, last spring when we started to see a little bit of a decline in cases, to get back out and do some things that, you know, they felt were normal to them. And, you know, the broader public has been really, really supportive and we've been very, very much appreciative of those folks who've come out and continue to support us, you know, through this. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Sure. OK, thank you. We'll get back to the wine industry here in a minute. But first, let's go to Zack Malham from the Wampler House Bed and Breakfast. So, Zack, what'd this do to your business? 

>>ZACK MALHAM: Well, Bob, thanks for having us on. And Mike, it's good to hear your voice again. And Stacey, I'm happy to hear that things are going - getting better for you all the time at Oliver, because you are probably one of the main number one destinations that our guests who do come to Bloomington and stay with us - you're at the top of the list. And honestly, there's always been great feedback about what you have done with regards to your focus on the Oliver Winery experience and they're loving walking the grounds, they're loving doing the wine tastes. Even though it's not the full bore, they're still coming back with great, great reports about - you know, so that's kudos to you and your team that you've been making it happen. So that being said, yeah, the Wampler House, like all of us here in Bloomington and around the world, you know, we took a hit. Lodging industry took a hit. And from March of 2020 through August 1, we were closed, so that's 20 weeks of nothingness. But thankfully, the county, the city came to our help. We sought it out and we were very fortunate to receive, you know, grants. The SBA came through with grants for us. So we were able to, you know, do our best to keep our head above water because our main goal was - we weren't looking for a handout, we were looking for a leg up because Donna and I - that's my wife, we own the Wampler House - our goal was to come out on the back side of this and to see it through and to make it happen. And since August 1, we've reopened - of 2020 - at 50% capacity, really, really stressing and really, really getting behind all the COVID protocols that are industry-wide within the lodging industry because we subscribe to as many newsletters as we can. And social media has been a huge, huge part of being able to carry our message of how we are COVID compliant. And then, lastly, I would like to throw in the - I really give Mike and your team at Visit Bloomington a really, really big, you know, thanks for promoting - continuing to promote our city as a destination and bringing people in. And this - the Hoosier Hospitality Promise, which was initiated by Visit Indiana Department of Tourism - it allowed every city and every county the opportunity to tell the visitor who's coming to Bloomington who is doing what to guarantee your safety. And that's kind of a wrap up on that. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. And let me ask Mike to - he had - he has a comment, I think he wants to join in here, and then I'll go to Erin. Mike? 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Well, I just want to - I want to thank Zack for saying that. And, you know, it was important for us, Visit Bloomington - and Erin Predmore knows this because we worked with the chamber on many of the initiatives of, you know, what can we do to help the community during covid and, obviously, help our partners like Zack? But, of course, we went dark and quiet there for a few months to at the beginning, April, May, June of 2020, but then we opened back up - we've been back here in our offices in the visitors center for over a year now with a very strict safety plan. But it was important to us to continue - to keep promoting safe travel, safe messages. What can you do in Monroe County safely, you know, as we still try to invite people here in a responsible way. So thank you, Zack, for saying that, it was important to us. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Erin - so, you know, overall with businesses, the hospitality industry is what we're particularly talking about. But how close are we going to be in the summer of 2021 to what we had in the summer of 2019? 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: I'm - I guess, unfortunately - I hate to answer something with a start of that word - but I don't think we're quite yet there to the - what we're used to in 2019 just because so much of - so many things have changed in the last, you know, 18 months. We're eating outside, we're doing more pick up, drop off, takeout sort of things. Different aspects of our society are still kind of running on reduced capacity and we're just adjusting to that. So some of that has to do with people's comfort levels and making sure that, emotionally, they're ready, they feel good, that scientifically that - you know, it's supported whatever it is we're doing, that we're taking the opportunity to make sure that the pandemic - that we do what we need to do action-wise to keep the pandemic at bay. So I would say that we're not quite there this summer, but we do have a great summer plan for the community that does incorporate all of those sort of great, you know, anti-pandemic efforts. Mike mentioned that we working on some different stuff and we continue to do that. So, I mean, all of the community of economic development, you know, organizations and efforts have been coordinating to try to see what we can do to help. So I do think this summer is going to be a lot of fun and I think it's going to be unique in that way, there's going to be a lot of opportunities for our community to come out and support businesses and feel more normal. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So, Erin, when you look back at, you know, what we've been through, I mean, what - how many businesses - and I'm not looking for an exact number but, you know, did a majority of the businesses make it through all right or do we see a lot of casualties from COVID? 

>>ERIN PREDMORE: I would say the majority made it through. I would not say they made it through all right. Not to parse words with you, but a lot of them - it really did depend. It wasn't - some of it was sector based. We saw certain sectors really struggle. Again, I know we're talking about hospitality, and that sector was very much impacted with such a turn - the shutdown has really impacted them, such a turn down? But other sectors really did quite well. And so they're, you know, surprisingly well and they're way ahead of where they expected to be at this point in their, you know, organizational history. So we do have the middle - those other sectors kind of in the middle. A lot of that depend - whether or not they turned out OK depended on, a lot of times, their length of time in business, how established they already were, whether or not they had cash on hand, were they going to be able to weather the storm? And I do think that the efforts that the federal government made with the PPP loans and the disaster loans and that sort of thing really did turn things around for lots of businesses, you know, who would not have had - otherwise had a chance to make that revenue back up. So things are perking up and going to be OK, but we did lose some businesses, that is true. I will say that, at the start of the pandemic, when the shutdown went into place, we did have some local businesses close and a lot of people - there was a lot of assumptions - we all kind of thought, oh, no, it's the pandemic impacting them. And for some of those businesses, it really was about - more about timing in some ways. It's about, you know, maybe someone was retiring or, you know, the lease was coming due - you know, coming open and did they want to stay in that location or did they want to close and try something different? So some of it's just this natural life cycle of businesses that happened to also coincide with some downturn stuff. So all in all, I would say our community actually did pretty well. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK, thank you. That was Erin Predmore from the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce. We also have as guests today Mike McAfee from Visit Bloomington, Stacey Weatherholt from Oliver Winery, and Zack Malham from the Wampler House Bed and Breakfast. You can follow us on Twitter at @noonedition and send us questions there and you can also send us questions for the show at Sara? 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Mike, you were giving us some really great data at the beginning of the show. Can you just sort of address those numbers in relation to IU's impact on that in\ not hosting things like sporting events, graduations, and how that would also lead to an improvement in the coming year? 

>>MIKE MCAFEE: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Those are - graduation week is the biggest tourism event of the year in Bloomington every year, so we certainly were hurt by that in 2020 when it was canceled. And this year, you know, IU had it and students graduate - graduating students weren't allowed to bring guests in person. They were allowed to attend virtually in that time and stuff. But the community was still full of - you know, all the parents came and picked up the students, so we were still, you know, at about 90% of what we would normally do in a year where people could attend that. But it had massive implications, as you can imagine. When football - the football season was canceled last year and other sporting events - I mean, right after graduation, you go to the Big Ten football games, and those are other - the other big events of the year and people really plan their - you know, their revenue forecasting around those. So when those are gone - I mean, that's the reason we were - you know, the market was down 40% in tourism last year was mainly due to those big events. So there's just massive implications. And, you know, really what saved us was outdoor recreation. We see all - are very fortunate to be built right inside the middle of an incredible national forest with the three lakes that we have that - you know, people came here to escape density in big cities and, you know, that's another reason why we fared OK through it all. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Zack, maybe you can address the same thing there just with IU and not hosting things like graduation. 

>>ZACK MALHAM: Yeah, I actually - I concur with Mike. Losing graduation 2020 was huge - was a huge blow to us. Fortunately, we only had one cancellation because, as most of you probably know, people book - we're booked into 2023 right now with a waiting list. I mean, and that's the way our entire town and our community is with graduation. And the reservations that were on the books for 2020 - thankfully, not one of those, even though they elected to stand down because the graduations were either on pause or hold or whatever, but what we did - even - we offered a gift certificate to compensate for the fact that they put a down payment down. So we were honoring guests who missed out to come to Bloomington to stay at the Wampler House Boutique Hotel. So they're - were able to carry those over into 2021. And 2021, albeit virtual, we still had 100% show on all of our guests. And because there was large screen applications set up around town, I believe, at some of the hotels where the guests were able to either watch on their tablets at the Wampler House or they were able to go and be with other parents and watch their students graduate. So I really commend the city for doing - having their best foot forward. Everybody, you know, including Visit Bloomington - I mean, all of us - all of you did a great, great job of encouraging people to still come participate in the graduation event, and it was really nice. And now they're all geared up and psyching up for parent weekends. Football season is coming. I mean, the schedule is posted. We're already booked. All of our football game weekends are booked September and October. Hilly 100, thankfully, is back on the grid. So, you know, there's a lot of buzz and hump going on. And as you mentioned, with the outdoor dining, what the city has done with Kirkwood is brilliant, I feel, with making it a pedestrian mall and expanding outdoor dining for those restaurants, you know, starting at Walnut and going all the way to Indiana Street by allowing guests to dine outside, because I know a lot of our guests really, really do just like that outdoor dynamic. So I think we've all been doing a great job of promoting each other and nobody's in competition with anybody. Everybody wants to see Bloomington move forward at the pace that we're going and I see an uptick. So hopefully it'll continue. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So Stacey from Oliver Winery - so what new things are you planning to do, you know, this summer to try to encourage people to get out and come back? 

>>STACEY WEATHERHOLT: Well, we are taking it one season at a time, as we've learned through the last, you know, 18 months or so. So the majority of our experiences have moved outdoors, just as, you know, we were discussing. And, you know, fortunately, again, we've got this lovely property here and guests really like to come out and enjoy the hillside. And we are seeing a lot more folks booking, like, our picnic experiences and, again, our reserve wine tastings. And we're going to take that into the summer and then we'll kind of see where fall leads us in terms of, you know, what we might be offering in the far - in the fall. You know, we're, again, just kind of taking it almost a month at a time at this point in time with the team here and remain as flexible as we can to meet that visitor demand and those expectations as much as we can, so... 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. Similar question to Erin. Erin, you mentioned that there were some - you know, you're trying to do some fun things and some interesting things this summer to help businesses. Can you talk a little more about that? 

>>ERIN PREDMORE: Yeah, I'll be happy to. So last summer we started, as a group - like, we kind of - well - and Visit Bloomington, Aaron White and Mike McAfee - I mean, the rest of their team certainly were instrumental in making sure this got off the ground was the B Town Summer Challenge, which was just a fun way to get people to be able to do the things that they can do, you know, safely and give them a list, kind of checking it off and having a competition of sorts. So we're going to launch that again this summer. We're working on that collectively again, and that should be a fun thing that people could be looking out to do. We'll be having that posted in the next little bit and be able to, you know, download a card - a playing card sort of thing and check off the items that you get done. So listeners need to pay attention for that, it is a fun competition. We're going to continue - I know that Zack already mentioned the Kirkwood closing, but the city has agreed to do that through the end of October. And so that really allows our restaurants and other businesses along Kirkwood to really invest in equipment and supplies and expand their footprint. So that's going to be there and we can - you can know that it's going to be there, you can count on it to be able to plan time with your family and friends downtown, eating out under the stars and having a good time out there. So there really should be a lot of fun things. And, of course, this weekend, Taste To Go starts, so that'll be a fun thing. It's a nice pivot that they did last year. Instead of Taste Of Bloomington, we do Taste To Go. It starts tomorrow and will last a week, so there's lots of opportunities for us to support our favorite restaurants through Taste To Go as well. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: How does that work? 

>>ERIN PREDMORE: Well, you can go onto the Taste Of Bloomington To Go site - so I'm actually going to refer you to Visit Bloomington's site... 


>>ERIN PREDMORE: ...Because they've got it down there. And you can essentially - they've got their menus already set for the Taste Of Bloomington To Go. And then, from that, you can pick the things that you want based on each of their opportunities - their offerings for the - their special menus, basically, for the Taste Of Bloomington To Go. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK, great. We've had some questions come in and I want to ask - I'm going to sort of have a general question then I'll get to these specific ones. But, you know, we've had a lot of debate about mass wearing and, you know, whether people should wear masks, shouldn't wear masks if you're - and if you're vaccinated, do you need to wear a mask anymore. So, Zack and Stacey, from your perspectives with the individual businesses, you know, how well have we done in keeping people safe and how comfortable do you feel now that enough people are vaccinated that we can go without masks? Zack? 

>>ZACK MALHAM: Well, OK. All right. Yeah, I'll take that. You know, it's a - Bob, it's just - it's a tough one because of the fact that, you know, it's an honor system. If you're double vaxxed, the word on the street is you don't need to wear a mask. If you're not vaxxed, you need to wear a mask. So it's like you're sharing air space with somebody who you're hoping is going to be sharing your same esprit de corps. Well, the way that it's been rolled out now in the city and in the county is they're leaving it up to individual restaurants to decide who's masked, who isn't. I know the other day when I was downtown, Bookstore Wanted, the sign said, you know, masks required upon entry. Well - and there's been no push back. So hopefully, God willing, there won't be push back. Well, for us at the Wampler House, what we've elected to do is get in step with the industry and with the county and state, and that is masks are recommended but not required. And so we're just leaving it up to the intelligentsia to do what they feel is right. Dawn and I are masked. When guests come check into the Wampler House, they're - we are masked. We have still all of our COVID protocols in place, Bob. We have hand sanitizer stations, there's signage, reminding people to social distance, to respect people's space, and there hasn't been any push back. And we just - you know, we just - we want people to feel comfortable but, at the same time, we want to follow what is happening as far as the guidelines. And so it's kind of such a gray area. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK, Stacey? And then either Erin or Mike, if you have anything you want to add, you're - of course, feel free. 

>>STACEY WEATHERHOLT: Yeah. Here at Oliver, you know, we - we've been in step with CDC guidelines, Monroe County guidelines throughout, obviously, the pandemic. And I think as I mentioned at the top of the show, you know, our number one priority was how do we deliver on experiences that are safe for the public as well as for our team, right? And we did encourage our team to get vaccinated. We even held on to mandating - I'll use the word mandating - or requesting that guests continue to wear masks even once it was lifted via the - sort of the CDC guidelines for those who are vaccinated just to allow our team a little bit more time to become fully vaccinated. We - I will echo what Zack said in terms of - we still have social distancing, you know, happening within the tasting room and our spaces. Our seating capacity is not at 100%, and that's intentional. You know, we still plexi up between the guests and the folks at our cash registers and things. So we are we're definitely still taking measures to try to ensure the safest experience all the way around. And it has been a little bit tough to navigate, especially when you've got mixed messages potentially coming from different organizations. And so it has been difficult for, I would say, the hospitality industry speaking as a whole to kind of navigate that. But, you know, it - you know, for the most part, I would say, you know, the public has been really supportive and falling in line with what we're expecting from them and what they're expecting from us. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So let's go to Erin and then Mike and then I think Sara has a question. So, Erin. 

>>ERIN PREDMORE: Yeah, I just wanted to say that I love how Zach is still wearing masks for his guests and Stacy's having, you know, still putting up some of the social distancing cues because that's kind of what it is right now. Right. So the Plexiglas and the and the social distancing stickers and things like that. And one of the reasons I say that that's so great is there are going to be individuals in our community and visitors that are not going to be able to be vaccinated for whatever reason. And we need to be able to be welcoming to them and help them feel comfortable, you know, by having some other people massed around them. We did our women Excel Bloomington event just a couple of few weeks ago, I guess, and we had staff masked. And the reason was we wanted others who needed to be matched to at least feel like they weren't the only ones in the room that were wearing a mask. And it was fascinating to see everybody as they came in. They would just sort of smile and - you know, they'd check in with us. They would say, oh, do I need to wear a mask? And they had theirs with them. They were ready to comply. They wanted it to be a successful event. And I'll just say, I think that's what our community does. I think we're very, very lucky that people are kind and considerate to each other. We've really seen with good communication and expectation shared that people are really responding. And I just love that Zack and Stacy's teams are leading the way in that way, too, because it's sitting cues and guidelines to the community and people are responding in safe ways, which is great. 


>>MIKE MCAFEE: I saw the the CEOs for two major hotel chains speak last week, and they said that the two biggest challenges for them are one or labor challenges which continue. But the second one is meeting the expectations, which includes reopening protocols. And because if you're Marriot and you own hotels in 50 different states, in all 50 states have different reopening protocols that you have to follow. How do you meet guests expectations of what they want their experience to be the type of service they want? You've got one coming in that wants to wear a mask, one that does it. So it is a challenge out there. And I think it's - you know, it's great. They need to - the hospitality companies have done a great job of of being transparent. You know, they put on the sign out front of their of their restaurant what changes they've made, what what safety improvements they've made to the building. So as people come in, they feel safe. I think that's great. So communication, communication and transparency about what you're doing to keep people safe is is what they need to do so much. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: So Mike just to follow up on that, how do we come to terms with the fact that there will be conflicting priorities for patrons and then just how safe they feel to participate and spend their money? 

>>MIKE MCAFEE: I do think that I know the new normal - I don't think that is - I don't think we know what that is yet. So there's so there's still a lot to be worked out. I mean, I can't believe it when I when I watch the news at night and I see people fighting on airplanes about wearing masks so, you know, and things like that. So I don't - we're just not there yet. And I think there is a lot to work out. And a lot of it just has to do with maybe that particular business or organization and how the people leading it feel going forward. And it is going to be interesting. It's almost, you know, the vax versus the nonvax. I hate to put it like that, but it's going to be disappointing for people who I mean, science doesn't lie. It's going to be disappointing for people who aren't getting vaccinated, who want to do something maybe later this year. And they're not going to get to do it. Unfortunately, because that that organization is going to have the right to not - to let them do it. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: You can follow us on Twitter at noon edition and you can send us questions there, you can also send us your questions for the show. And news at Indiana that Edu, we're talking to several representatives of the hospitality industry, Mike McAfee from Bloomington, Erin Creedmore from the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, Stacey Weatherholt from Oliver Winery and Zack Malham from Wampler House Bed and Breakfast. Just to follow up on what you are saying there, Mike, about different people in different categories of people. I want to ask Erin first and anybody who wants to jump in. We've had this sent into us, data says the vaccinated consumers are still not spending a pre pandemic levels, but unvaccinated people are spending at a faster level that unvaccinated people are rebounding faster. Does that, Erin, does that make sense to you? Can you explain that? 

>>ERIN PREDMORE: I think it does in some ways, only because I actually just read an article about the fear based aspect of the pandemic and for people in the way that they were navigating the science knowledge that was being shared for people who are, you know, eagerly vaccinated, who were who were locked down at home and trying to follow all of the different recommendations, wearing their masks and things like that to stay safe. I think they're having a harder time reopening and understanding that now that they're vaccinated and that others around them are being vaccinated, that that risk has reduced. And then on the flip side of that, obviously, is the individuals who for whom the pandemic seemed more of a, you know, irritation than something that they were fearful of as soon as they were allowed to kind of get back out there. They're starting to do that easily. So they didn't have the fear quite to, you know, to overcome as maybe the other group. So what we're again, I mean, what we're trying to do as a community is just have it be comfortable for everyone to get back out there so that regardless of your vaccination status or how you're feeling, we obviously do want everyone to be vaccinated so that we can, as a community, be able to just move forward and return to normal. But as that transition is happening and as we're navigating all of this, just making it comfortable for lots of people to be able to, you know, connect with businesses and order out if they need to and do take out or, you know, do some online ordering and swing by to pick it out. The pick up drop off parking spaces and things like that downtown have been helpful in doing that. So we are trying to make that easier for businesses to be OK and their customers to be OK. But I do think Bob that there's a split in that kind of that fear as a motivator for action. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: You know we're - Bloomington as all of you know, is such an arts community as well. The entertainment and arts events and arts venues have been hit particularly hard. So I want to ask Mike McAfee first. We don't have anybody from the specific arts community here. But what do you - what do you foresee this summer for theaters and for theater companies and for musical acts, people that have made their made their money here in Bloomington, you know, playing the nightclubs or or putting on performances. What do you see? What do you see for them this summer? 

>>MIKE MCAFEE: Well, I think it's - slowly people are slowly starting to book, shows and things like that. The Bluebird has got some touring bands coming through. Certainly there's a lot of outdoor music festivals and things happening, you know, limited, maybe more limited capacities and things like that. But that's kind of what's happening with some of the indoor venues. It's just, again, putting in their safety protocols and, you know, maybe they're operating at seventy five percent capacity and spreading the tables out and not selling quite as many tickets. So it is coming back and I'm starting to see a lot more shows get announced and stuff like that. So I think it's just a matter of people being careful and exactly what Erin just said about how they feel going forward about, you know, maybe going inside to a show or whether they want to stay outside for a while. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: We've had this question come in and we have a couple of business people here that and of course, Erin and Mike both work with businesses. But the question is, what role do local businesses play in helping community recovery? So, Stacey, I want to turn to you first on that. What role do local businesses like yours have to play in helping community recovery? 

>>STACEY WEATHERHOLT: Again, I would say that with all of our being, you know, one of the the most travel destinations and right behind are you in Bloomington, we you know, it's important that, again, we're offering experiences that people are comfortable coming out and experiencing that we're we're operating a safe experience for guests and visitors, and, you know, that really helps, I think, to put the best foot forward for the - for Bloomington as a whole, you know, with the amount of visitors that we have and sort of helping to set that expectation for guests as they head into town and do other experiences. And I think that's really going to be important for sure as well. As, you know, I think one thing I want to say is just it's been amazing to me to see the resilience and the overwhelming flexibility that the business community has had throughout this pandemic and their ability to survive through this. And it's just - with, being again, super flexible and thinking outside the box and really trying to deliver on whatever it is that that that they're delivering on, whether it be food or drink and or again and experience and shifting it in such a way that guests could still come and enjoy that. And so it's been really great to see that. And it's been great to to see so many of these awesome businesses survive throughout this pandemic. And I just want to also tip my hat to Mike here, visit Bloomington and his team, because they really did such a good job and pivoting their messaging last year to try to encourage folks to come out and do those things that were safe to do or are perceived to be safe or, you know, put things in front of in front of the community that would invite folks to come out and have a good time here in Bloomington in ways that felt very safe. So hats off to you, Mike. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right, Zack, I want to ask you that same question. So as a local business owner, what do you think the role that you and your colleagues and business play in helping the community recover falls? 

>>ZACK MALHAM: Along with the way Stacy is talking about it is the messaging and getting the word to the travelers and the guests and the visitors coming to the Bloomington, especially Oliver winery, letting the guests utilizing everything that's at our fingertips to let the guests know what they can expect from a safety standpoint, utilizing all of the different and various social media platforms. I know I mentioned the Indiana Department of Tourism Hoosier Hospitality promised. But Tripadvisor and Expedia and Google have all requested over the past 10, 15 months that you put a ban or a caveat information on your website explaining what you have in place, showing the guests what they can expect and how you're going to deliver to use Indiana University's tagline, how you're going to deliver on the promise? Well, what we've elected to do since August one and we're going to continue doing it through probably the end of this month, is we're only operating at 50 percent capacity. Therefore, so it's that's four rooms versus eight. And yeah, that's a kit. However, it's an investment in the future because our guests responds when they arrive and they see that we're really doing four rooms versus eight. They're so thankful because they feel comfortable in the space. They feel that we're on top of our game. They see that we have protocols in place and it all comes through in walking the walk, not just talking the talk. And again, I use that word. All of us collectively are investing in the future because we're showing the traveler of today and tomorrow that we are a safe community or a conscious community. And we want you to come here. And this is where I give again, hats off to Mike and his team. We want you to come to Bloomington because we're a regional destination. We particularly at the warmth of our house, we draw from for four and a half hour drive. People are driving from Chicago, St. Louis, Evansville, Louisville, Cincinnati, the entire state of Ohio and the entire area of greater Indianapolis area. So guests are coming, but they're thrilled to see, a, that we're open and serving a stove to table breakfast, which is what we're known for because I'm a chef. But the fact that we have their number one priority, and that's safety. And we're also at the same time exceeding expectations. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Let me follow up on that with Erin and Mike, and now I want to ask all of you to sort of wrap up with what you've learned during the pandemic. So you might be thinking about that. But, Erin, Zack's talking about customer service. And it seems to me that, you know, that's always been a key area for every business talks about how they want to provide good customer service. Some did, some didn't. Do you think that this pandemic has put an even stronger importance on the idea of how you treat your customers and how you're going to serve your customers? 

>>ERIN PREDMORE: I think definitely only because it was such a quick feedback loop there, right, like everything, everything went horribly wrong. We were all locked down. Money dried up. Businesses were very nervous and worried. And it was the ones that pivoted quickly and started really listening to their customers and started thinking of all the different ways that they could serve them creatively. Those are the ones that were the first ones to sort of get their feet back under them. And others quickly paid attention. Right. So they saw some best practices. They were able to to assess that for themselves and and implement that. In the end, I think customer service is always going to end up impacting a business so positively when it's done well. And I think the pandemic has allowed customers to really feel connected to the businesses that they frequent. They're making choices with their money, you know, to buy local or to support that business where they know others that work there. They've had positive experiences in the past. So it's, again, a great feedback loop for that business. They really do feel it because they start to see those same people each time. And going back to the pandemic, it's about are you comfortable enough to shop there? Are you feeling good about what they're doing there with their their customers? For example, the local restaurants? If you all remember, a year ago, restaurants did a great job of letting the community know if they had a covid positive server and they would put something a lot of the restaurants that were putting that out there and being transparent ended up earning so much trust from the rest of the community. And you saw them, you know, be paid back essentially by the community because others felt more comfortable eating there because they knew that that restaurant was going to be open and honest, transparent with them. So that's a great example of how the pandemic, you know, really did show show businesses the importance of that. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK, Mike, I wanted to ask you to comment on the same thing. Do you believe that we're going to enter a new phase of of great customer service, or do you think we'll go back to some some businesses or - I'm taking a big assumption here that some businesses have paid more attention to it than others. 

>>MIKE MCAFEE: I agree, I agree with that, Bob. I agree with - I think Aaron did a great job of summarizing that. I do think people going forward are going to make some - I did read a lot of statistics, a lot of research. Research has been a bright spot during that. We've been able to get our hands on all kinds of travel research. I follow this company called Destination Analysts that do consumer sentiment studies with travelers every week. And 30 percent of Americans expect to change their lifestyles after the pandemic, which includes like a healthier work life balance, spending more time with family and friends, being more mindful of self care. And I think a lot of that has to do with, you know, places they're going to frequent, where they're going to spend their money, those types of things. So I think customer service and loyalty programs and and doing things with your you know, your loyal customers is going to be big going forward. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Let me keep with you, Mike, and ask, you know what? What's a key lesson that you learned during the pandemic in something a way that maybe your your business and and your own personal style is going to change going forward? 

>>MIKE MCAFEE: I think all of what I just said, it was one thing I certainly learned is I think hospitality and tourism for maybe people that didn't realize it, realize how big it is not only here in Monroe County and Bloomington, but all across the country and how big of an impact it is on everyone's lives, especially the economic impact of it as well. But I think all of that going forward, being more mindful of that of that work life balance. And I'm going to wash my hands a lot more. Bob, how about that? 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: That's good. Zack, what about you? About one minute for for each of you now. So, Zack. 

>>ZACK MALHAM: OK, so, yes, with with regard to the guest experience, the overall guest experience and just refocussing on, are we really as good Today, as we were yesterday, because yesterday is gone, today is all we have in rebuilding tomorrow success and what we do today. So essentially it just it boils down to continually focusing on how can we exceed the guest experience in my industry. It's a guest experience dynamic and what we're doing - our goal is, is even though we're in the middle of a pandemic, which is not over yet, is to still have our guests come and and leave a review where our. We exceeded their expectations and they're thankful, so like I said earlier, we're building. Tomorrow's guests through what we do today. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK, Stacey, one minute. What have you learned and what is Oliver Winery? 

>>STACEY WEATHERHOLT: We've learned to be very flexible. First and foremost, I would say as an organization and, you know, the - we want to have a continued commitment to the community. And as a business leader, what I feel like we're seeing now is a fundamental change, long term change, and just the consumer and guest expectations. And just taking this opportunity to pivot and shift, to meet those expectations and exceed them, as I mentioned, is more important than ever for the hospitality industry. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right, Erin, one minute. 

>>ERIN PREDMORE: I would just say that, I mean, what Mike and Stacey and Zack have said are all correct, everybody, you know, pivoting, being being flexible, all of that sort of thing, the transformational aspect of the pandemic for all of us was was felt at every single level. But when I think about our kind of our take home here at the chamber, our tagline is better business, better community. And I think that was just really hit home for all of us when we were there in the early days. And then just throughout, even as now we're working on the recovery and trying to get everybody back on their feet again. The inner woven nature of our lives together in Bloomington, Monroe County and just our region overall is is so clear. Now, when a business is struggling, then that impact, that kind of, you know, shadow impact on employees and staff and and the business owners, the landlords, the other tenants around them. I mean, all that sort of stuff is it's so very clear that eco-system part of it and you could see that as certain sectors struggled more than others or some people got back on their feet and then kind of others began to do better as well. So I would say that's one of the lessons that we recognize here at the chamber and just really drove home for us is the impact of the pandemic is just that interconnected nature. And I would just end on this high note. I know I started with your first question using the word unfortunately. Fortunately, we live in an amazing community, Bloomington, Monroe County. I would say I also learned that that that is the pandemic was a wonderful reminder of how wonderful this community is. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. Thank you. Aaron Pridmore from the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, also been talking with Mike McAfee from Bloomington, Stacey Weatherholt from the Oliver Winery and Zack Malham from Wampler House Bed and Breakfast. Thank you all for joining us today for our producer, Bente Bouthier, my co-host Sara Wittmeyer and engineer John Bailey. I'm Bob Zaltsberg. Thanks for listening to Morning Edition.


Noon Edition airs on Fridays at noon on WFIU.

COVID rules on masks, occupancy, and gathering size  have been lifted. Local pools and other summer destinations across the state are opening up.

COVID cases and hospitalizations are significantly lower than they were in the winter and early spring, but some economic experts question whether this will be enough to encourage people to return to previous activity levels. And health experts warn that  a summer decline in cases may be followed by  a rise in fall and winter.

A recent poll from Vox and Data For Progress shows more than half of respondents who were fully vaccinated still are wearing masks in public. 

The CDC has advised that mass vaccination is key to keeping COVID cases down.

Before the pandemic, 1 in 23 Hoosier workers had a job in tourism and hospitality. Nationally, the hospitality industry is predicted to take longer to recover than most.

The Indiana Business Review forecast for Bloomington  says the city is consistent with this national trend.

TripAdvisor lists Bloomington as one of the top ten cities to visit in the state, and hospitality is one of the city’s top three industries.

This week, Noon Edition will talk with local experts on the economy, tourism, and hospitality about what their summer will look like, and how they are recovering from the effects of the pandemic.

You can follow us on Twitter @NoonEdition or join us on the air by calling in at 812-855-0811 or toll-free at 1-877-285-9348. You can also send us questions for the show at

Note: This week of our guests and hosts will participate remotely to avoid risk of spreading infection. 


Mike McAfee, Visit Bloomington, executive director

Erin Predmore, The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, president and CEO

Stacey Weatherholt, Oliver Winery, hospitality director

Zack Malham, Wampler House Bed and Breakfast, host

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