The Power of a Smile

Jet Boat Ride owner honored
with tourism’s Hospitality Award

Nicholson gave free rides
during recent bridge closure

(June 2014) – “Madison, the first time people come in, has a homey feel,” says Capt. Paul Nicholson.
About three years ago Nicholson, 55, an Oregon native, and Janet Harding, originally from Avon, Ind., were traveling through the town and were struck by the “quaintness, the history of the city. It just grabbed us by the heart. We felt very welcome. We stayed up all night thinking up of businesses that would let us stay in Madison.”

Paul Nicholson

Photo by Don Ward

Oregon native Paul Nicholson fell in love with Madison, so last year he and Janet Harding of Avon, Ind., started a Jet Boat Ride business there.

The two were surprised to learn that there were no boating tours offered for visitors, so they decided that was a need they could fill. Last year, they opened Rockin’ Thunder Jet Boat Rides, offering thrilling adventures and scenic tours for those looking to spend some memorable time on the river.
While Nicholson may be something of a newcomer to the area, he is already making an impact welcoming visitors and assisting residents in his “adopted hometown.”
On May 7, Mark Newman, executive director of the Indiana Office of Tourism Development, recognized Nicholson as the 2014 HOSTS Award Winner. The HOSTS Award, which stands for Honoring Our Special Tourism Stars, has been a tradition for 14 years. Nicholson was thanked for exemplifying “all of the qualities that make Madison a friendly place for people to visit, over and over again.”
“Madison is known for Hoosier Hospitality,” VisitMadison Inc. Executive Director Linda Lytle says.  “We want to make sure everyone’s time here from when they arrive to when they leave is nothing less than exceptional.”
Throughout the year, the Lanier-Madison Visitors Center collects comment cards from guests and recognizes honorees based on the visitor feedback. Jones, Group Tour Coordinator at the Center, says of those honored, “It’s people in the community who go above and beyond to make sure people have a good experience in Madison.”
Nicholson says, “We have a great deal of respect for the Madison Visitor’s Center. For them to select our business was quite an honor.”

HOSTS Award Winner

Photo courtesy of Marci Jones

VisitMadison Inc.’s HOST honorees on May 7 at the Lanier-Madison Visitors Center are (from left) Pam Quick, Broomtail Carriage; Bill Lackner, tour guide at Lanier Mansion; Paul Nicholson of Rockin’ Thunder Jet Boat Rides; Laura Hesse, a former employee of Riverboat Inn; Karen Ricketts of the VisitMadison Inc. staff; and Mark Newman, executive director of the Indiana Office of Tourism Development.

Nominees for the 2014 award included Pam Quick of Broomtail Carriage; Bill Lackner, tour guide at the Lanier Mansion; and Laura Hesse of the Riverboat Inn. Karen Ricketts of the Visitors Center was also recognized for her impact on area guests.
The HOSTS Award Reception was part of Madison’s celebration of National Tourism Week. Other events included free hospitality training for front line employees and free admission to local historic sites. Tourism officials highlight the importance of interaction between residents and visitors and hope to encourage more awareness of Madison attractions.
“Our mission here at the Visitors Center is to increase visitation and to provide an outstanding visitor experience,” Lytle explains
The nomination for Nicholson described him as “a great tour guide, in and out of the water. He is a great ambassador for Madison.”
Jones says of Nicholson and Harding, “They’re very friendly, very accommodating to people. They go above and beyond to make sure people enjoy the boat ride.”
The ceremony highlighted not only the work Nicholson and Harding do for out of town guests, but for locals as well. During the Milton-Madison Bridge closure in March and April, their ferry service transported more than 4,060 people and 12 dogs safely across the river, easing area residents’ trips to work and doctor’s appointments. “We can’t talk about it without laughing,” Nicholson says of the memorable experience. Rain, snow, lightning crashing. We had one day when the sun shined.”
But it was worth the trouble to help the community he added. “The people we met were so grateful.”
Nicholson and Harding each have an extensive boating background and are certified through the U.S. Coast Guard as master captains. Each have had a love of boating since childhood, and their enthusiasm is instantly recognized by those who ride with them. They offer the only jet boat tours of the Ohio River and the only New Zealand Jet Boat in the Midwest, giving visitors two distinctly different views of the river with their thrill and scenic rides.
Their “Rockin’” ride is “For the thrill seekers,” says Nicholson, “You tend to get splashed.” That tour takes full advantage of the power and maneuverability of the jet boat taking riders on 360-degree spins, sideways slides and fishtails. Those wishing a more leisurely experience can enjoy the scenic tour of 35-40 miles during the twilight and early evening hours. “It’s just a pretty time on the river. The sun goes down, you see deer, eagles, river otters,” says Nicholson.
Nicholson has lived and traveled all over the world, but recognizes Madison as a special place saying, “Once it has a hold on you it never lets go.” As he begins boat tours for a new summer season, Nicholson said he is looking forward to giving others the same warm welcome he received just a few years ago.

• For more information on the boat tours, visit: www.rockinthunder.com.

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