Deep dive with Scott Socha, group president, Delaware North

US-headquartered Delaware North is reaping the benefits of straddling both sides of the hotel owner-operator divide, so THP News got the lowdown from the group’s president.

Scott Socha detailed the firm’s latest developments, including the acquisition of the 322-key Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn in Tusayan, Arizona, which is being renamed Squire Resort at the Grand Canyon, before transitioning to the Best Western Signature Collection by mid-year.

Why did Delaware North decide to acquire Squire Inn?

Delaware North has been an active member of the Grand Canyon community for many years through our existing portfolio, including operating Yavapai Lodge, Trailer Village RV Park, and a number of retail outlets both inside and outside of the park. Tusayan is a unique gateway community to the South Rim, and given our existing footprint we thought this was a great opportunity to expand our presence and demonstrate our continued commitment to the region. This acquisition, which is more a resort offering, provides us with another type of travel experience to offer visitors to the destination.

What changes will you make to the property to enable it to join the Best Western Signature Collection? 

We see Squire Resort as a long-term and successful asset for Delaware North and are making several enhancements in the coming months, including a refresh of the lobby, other public spaces, pool and outdoor areas, and improvements to the hotel’s culinary and retail offerings. We are also thinking a lot about the guest experience as we welcome travellers from around the world, including special touches in both amenities and design that bring the spirit of this special hotel to life. As one of the closest full-service properties to the Grand Canyon, we are excited about the future of Squire Resort and see great potential for even more renovations and improvements in the year ahead.

Are you intending to make any further hotel acquisitions this year?

Delaware North’s 2022 report on The Future of Recreation, Travel and Hospitality predicted several travel trends over the next 10 years based on the forces of change unleashed by the pandemic.

We think some of those will help our business in and near national parks, including the latest ‘bleisure’ trend that allows people to work from anywhere and thus combine leisure and business travel. Our Tenaya at Yosemite property serves as a great example as a unique offering that is perfectly suited to this trend – a space where travellers can enjoy a variety of on-property, outdoor and wellness experiences no matter their trip purpose.

We are also taking the report’s insights to heart in determining our long-term growth strategy – looking at a mix of destinations, including some smaller national parks and even state parks. Finally, we are also cognisant of the report’s foreshadowing of the impacts of climate change as we think about long-term growth and how to best position the portfolio.

What trends are you seeing in hotel and resort outfits that could be beneficial to incorporate into your own properties?

As the consumer continues to evolve post-pandemic, we are looking at a number of ways of improving the guest and service experience throughout our portfolio. Technology remains a significant area of focus as we look to evolve how we meet the needs of our guests, including ensuring great wi-fi throughout a property, creating a seamless experience in our food and beverage outlets via self-checkout technology, and even ways in which we can better communicate with our guests via text and other mobile platforms. Thinking with a guest-first mindset helps our teams to constantly innovate and try to stay ahead of consumer trends while at the same time delivering a great guest experience. 

Will you be looking at any newbuild lodging resorts over the coming years?

We are looking at potential newbuilds of a hotel or our proprietary Explorer Cabins near national and state parks and cultural attractions, similar to our new hotel near Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Which major hotel brands and groups do you partner with?

We recognise the power of brand and are proud that our Delaware North lodging portfolio continues to grow through successful partnerships with three distinct lodging brands: Choice Hotels International, Marriott International, and most recently Best Western.

Our Choice Hotels International portfolio currently includes three hotels within their Ascend Collection: The Ridgeline Hotel Estes Park, which is near Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and two properties in Montana — The Pine Lodge in Whitefish and The Ridgeline Hotel at Yellowstone in Gardiner. 

With Marriott International, we own and operate three unique branded experiences, including The Westin Buffalo, a recognised award winner within the brand that was developed in our corporate headquarters building just after opening in 2016.

Last year, we debuted the Courtyard by Marriott Titusville – Kennedy Space Center located on the increasingly popular ‘space coast’ of Florida. Most recently, we welcomed our third Marriott International-branded property into the Delaware North portfolio through the acquisition of a Sheraton Hotel in Nashua, New Hampshire.

What criteria do you use to decide which hotel FF&E suppliers to work with on newbuildings and renovations?

Delaware North has a number of longstanding relationships with valued partners and suppliers from around the world, always driven through the lens of quality, scale, creativity, and sustainability. Given the unique destinations in which we operate, a guest-centric approach to materials and working with like-minded partners remains an integral piece of how the company does business in the communities in which it operates.

What benefits are there of being a hotel owner-operator rather than just one or the other?

As an owner-operator, Delaware North has more control over its investment in lodging assets and making the decisions necessary with our properties to create successful operations and guest experiences. One of the great things about our current portfolio is that it offers customers a balance of both independent and branded properties, giving travellers different ways of staying with us depending on the destination. Partnering with global brands such as Choice Hotels International, Best Western and Marriott International also allows us great opportunity to tap into their tremendous scale and distribution channels, ultimately helping aid awareness for our Delaware North offerings.

Do worldwide macroeconomic factors tend to influence your hotel development decisions?

Delaware North certainly takes economic factors into consideration in determining the allocation of resources for hotel development and acquisition. The company also balances its capital investment priorities among its various business lines, including casinos, destination restaurants and improvements in its sports and entertainment venue hospitality facilities.

What is your overall lodging and resort development strategy over the next few years?

We are focused on recreation, adventure tourism and lodging near national parks and other experiential destinations. We’ve also done proprietary research to learn more about our various guest profiles and what they want when they travel. We filter any acquisition or new development through this lens to ensure the investment makes strategic sense. Safety, accessibility, workforce and sustainable operations all play a role in the company’s long-term growth strategy.