In November, Hershey Entertainment & Resorts announced a new president, Bill Simpson. Simpson was formerly executive vice president and chief operating offier of the company. He began his career with Hershey Entertainment & Resorts in 1996 as the general manager of the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center (now Hershey Lodge). He oversaw the dramatic expansion of the Lodge in 1998 and guided that property to record years during his tenure. He became vice president of the Entertainment Group in April 2002 and oversaw the operation of the Hersheypark Entertainment Complex. Simpson discussed his new role as president with Lodging Editor Len Vermillion.
1. Len Vermillion: What are your immediate plans for the company now that you have been named president?
Bill Simpson: We have something very special in Hershey, Pa., and I am so honored and humbled to be a part of this company. We have an unbelievable history all centered around Mr. Hershey, the town and community that he created, and the Milton Hershey School for disadvantaged children—all built on the foundation of Hershey’s chocolate. Fully embracing our own uniqueness has helped us focus all of our energy into Destination Hershey.
Over the past decade we have spent over $300 million on our properties, many of which we consider legacy properties that are tied directly to Mr. Hershey’s history. Our focus going forward will be to create experiences that, no matter where you are— whether it’s at our resort properties, restaurants, entertainment venues, or amusement park—you get the same “Hershey” guest experience. Our CEO, Ted Kleisner, is passionate about this approach and has coined the term “one company” as the embodiment of that service promise. As such, we are dedicated to providing each of our guests with a unique Hershey experience at all of our venues. Our short range and long term plan is to continue to add content to our destination and share our special history with those who may not know the unbelievable story of Hershey, Pa.
2. LV: You came out of the hotel business, but Hershey is much more than lodging. How will your experience aid you as you oversee the entire operation? BS: First and foremost, hospitality is our only business. No matter which aspect of our destination our guests may be enjoying, our hospitality and the manner in which we anticipate our guests’ needs and deliver on our brand promise is absolutely crucial. My experience in lodging will help us view how we deliver service through the lens of a hotelier, which means a critical eye always focused on excellence and consistency in providing the very best experience that we can, whether you are a guest at our resorts, attending a concert, or boarding a roller coaster. If we are successful in achieving that objective, then we have a loyal guest for life.
3. LV: As we head into a new year, how do you see the prospects for resorts as we continue to climb out of the recession?
BS: I’m optimistic. Three things that we’ve come to realize through this difficult economic climate are that value is king, the family vacation is non-negotiable, and that interpersonal interaction remains a key to successful group meetings. Regarding the first, sure, people want world-class service and they want that one-of-a-kind experience, which is certainly something we offer. What neither families nor groups want is to feel like they have to hand over their entire bank account to get that experience. Because we have so many different options in Hershey, we can package many components of a destination experience together at a competitive price so that folks get a very good value for their dollar.
Secondly, we’ve found that families not only want, but also need, to find that time to get away from their routine and reconnect. It’s something that will always be a priority as the one thing that nearly every household places on their “must do” list in some way, shape or form. It’s incumbent upon us to not only make sure that we provide the diversity of options to please the many different interests within a family, but also to ensure that the experience doesn’t break the family bank account.
Lastly, on the group side, we’ve realized that there will never be a replacement for face-to-face meetings. With all of the advances in technology, the fact still remains that personal interactions, and the building of personal relationships is key to how business gets done.
4. LV: You’re a member of the AH&LA’s Resort Committee, what do you see as the biggest issues for these types of properties these days?
BS: There is no question that those operating under the “resorts” moniker were undeservedly labeled as “taboo” during the height of the economic crisis, the impact of which certainly provided a chilling effect for many planners seeking a suitable destination for meetings and conventions. As a result of the widely (and unfairly) circulated negative sentiment against the resort industry in its entirety, we saw a mindset evolve that equated nearly every resort with lavishness, excess, and an ultra-expensive experience. This media truism was reported over and over again and even echoed by certain politicians.
Resorts have to rethink how they speak to the marketplace and how they broaden their appeal. Contrary to the headlines of many news reports—most resorts appeal to mainstream guests. We need to remind the marketplace of that and deliver on our value proposition.