Hockey fans have likely heard the latest executive news from Buffalo, N.Y.-based Delaware North: the food service and hospitality company’s Chairman Jeremy Jacobs, who also owns the Boston Bruins, will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017.
But the June announcement shouldn’t overshadow Scott Socha’s April appointment to president of the company’s parks and resorts division. He was previously the company’s VP and treasurer and during his 18-year tenure with Delaware North, also served in a variety of other executive roles, including VP of finance, VP of operations and head of GreenPath, the business’ proprietary environment management program launched in the 1990s when Delaware North was awarded the contract to operate visitor services in Yosemite National Park.
That contract came to an end in 2015 when the National Park Service granted the contract to Philadelphia-based Aramark and although litigation over concession trademarks continues, Delaware North’s U.S. business still includes the operation of concessions at other national and state parks, such as Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Niagara Falls State Park in New York.
“Operating in National and State Parks is at the heart of what our business is and we will continue to pursue those opportunities, but we will also pursue opportunities in gateway communities,” Socha explained as the company’s long-term vision for its parks and resorts division.
The strategy has already included the 2015 acquisition of Pine Lodge and the Best Western Rocky Mountain Lodge, both in Whitefish, Mont., and both about 25 miles outside of Glacier National Park. A year later, the company also acquired two Estes Park, Colo., properties: the Rocky Mountain Park Inn and retail store Trendz at the Park, both just a few miles from the Beaver Meadows Entrance State to Rocky Mountain National Park. After closing the inn for a six-month, $6-million renovation, it reopened in June as The Ridgeline Hotel Estes Park.
Delaware North adds to Yellowstone holdings: In what has been a busy period for Delaware North’s parks and resorts… https://t.co/uICUxuQ76U— Buffalo Buzz (@Buffalo_buzz) December 9, 2016
But how Delaware North’s parks and resorts business could be impacted by the Interior Department’s review of 27 National Monument designations and possible subsequent rollbacks of previous protections remains to be seen. President Trump's administration has made it known of its desire to open up more federal land to drilling, mining and other development.
“We always monitor situations like this,” Socha said, “but it’s just too early to tell what’s going to happen.”
In the meantime, the focus is also on increasing the length of stay, a task that Socha said requires communicating with guests pre-arrival to engage with them and encourage them to think about the experiences that their vacation will entail. Because national and state park trips are, for many travelers, once-in-a-lifetime trips, Socha said, “They may never again come back to these places and so that one extra day can be incredibly meaningful from a customer-experience perspective.”
That’s not to say that as a brand, Delaware North’s parks and resorts don’t enjoy repeat guests. According to Socha, some properties do, in fact, have a loyal following. But he also pointed out that while most visitors don’t necessarily frequent the same property more than once, they may visit other parks and stay at other Delaware North locations.
But the company does look to build followings in its local communities, through stewardship and environmental commitments driving GreenPath, which has been a pet project of Delaware North’s owners, the Jacobs family, since the program’s inception. Socha said, “The family believes it’s an all-encompassing stewardship platform about interpretation, education, the care of assets, culinary well-being and community involvement.” He also noted that, at least in part, guests also drive the program because of the experiences that they seek and the fact that they travel to these parks for a better understanding of the parks’ history and environment.
Green initiatives run the gamut from industry standards, such as giving guests the option of having towels and linens changed, to only serving dining patrons tap water upon request, as is the practice at Kalaloch Lodge in Olympic National Park, to the DiscoveryPath program, available at Iowa’s Honey Creek Resort. The three-day, two-night interactive educational program brings local students and chaperones for activities such as touring the Iowa Department of Natural Resource’s Rathbun Fish Hatchery and the resort’s net-zero energy facility to learn about wind energy and solar heating and visiting on-site beehives for a lesson on pollination’s impact on the local economy.
“We try to focus on soft spots in the business like shoulder season and this program gets a lot interest with local students who have to apply to the program because we limit the size to create a really rich educational environment,” Socha said.