Callaway Gardens makes changes to decrease debt - WRBL

Callaway Gardens makes changes to decrease debt

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PINE MOUNTAIN, Ga. -

Callaway Gardens is being run by a new motto; "don't spend more than you make."

The resort was $44 million in the hole last year, but some corporate restructuring is helping them get back on their feet.

Selling 7000 of Callaway Gardens' 13,000 acres in 2012 helped pave a new way for the deeply-in-debt attraction. Now the site is short just $8 million and slowly seeing visitors coming back.

2013 at the Gardens started off with a three-month remodeling project at the Mountain Creek Inn. The historic resort's rooms hadn't had a style upgrade in more than 50 years, but shutting it down from January through March dampened group bookings, which bring in a third of the resort's revenue.

CEO Edward Callaway says, "We were expecting our business to grow dramatically after our rooms remodeled, and it has, but what's surprising to us was it grew for families and individuals but groups book 6 months, 12 months, 18 months out, so we did not get the growth in group room nights that we thought we would."

The cost of renovations led Callaway to make an executive decision to cut $1 million from this year's budget, which included letting go of 12 of the gardens' nearly 800 employees. He says, "These are great people and we hate to lose them, but again the primary discipline we have is that we will not expend more money than we make, and we spent $2.5 million in January, February and March thinking we'd get it back this year."

While group bookings are a major part of business at Callaway Gardens, the expansion of the Treetop zip line experience and other amenities have daily gate admittance up by 50%. "It just says that everything we're doing is right," says Callaway. "The groups are coming. They're just coming later."

One of the new incentives for visitors is a drop in room rates during slow periods, something Callaway learned from other major resorts like Disney.

Callaway expects 2014 to be a big year for the Gardens, and he says he has more tricks up his sleeve to keep the guests coming. "We're not ready to announce what we might be doing next year, but we're going to be doing something every year, and it's going to be big enough for people to notice it."

The lower room rates start in August. You can stay at the brand new Mountain Creek Inn starting at $79 on week nights and $99 on the weekend as an end-of-summer special.

Callaway also plans to start an annual shut down at the beginning of January for 11 days to conduct resort-wide maintenance.

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