Further cementing her status as a savvy entrepreneur, Dolly Parton and her partner company, Herschend Family Entertainment, run their hotels without the help of third parties.
Dolly Parton has been in the news for releasing a new record and a new book. We’re focused on the launch of the new hotel she co-owns, Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort.
Parton and her partner company, Herschend Family Entertainment, run their hotels on their own, without help from a global brand like Marriott or a third-party management company like Aimbridge. They also fund their projects through their own capital and bank loans — an uncommon move for resorts of this size.
Dollywood’s HeartSong is the latest collaboration between Parton and Herschend. The two first teamed up in 1986 to open Dollywood, a theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee — which has since become the state’s most-visited attraction.
The first of Dolly Parton’s hotels opened in 2015 at Dollywood: the DreamMore Resort and Spa.
To get a sense of Dolly Parton’s hotel strategy, Skift spoke with Bill Doyle, the senior vice president of hospitality with Herschend — and the hotel visionary on the company’s resort side.
Dolly Parton’s Hotels Go It Alone
Many hotel veterans would argue that a theme park company shouldn’t run a hotel because the business is too different. In fact, when Herschend and Parton opened DreamMore in 2015, they tapped a management company, then called Gemstone Hotels & Resorts, to run it.
Yet in 2019, Herschend and Parton decided they had learned enough and could run hotels themselves.
“We took the training wheels off,” said Doyle, who joined the company at that time — bringing a few decades of hotel management experience with him.
Since Herschend became the operator as well as the owner of the DreamMore, the resort has seen a rise in its key measure of consumer satisfaction, the net promoter score (NPS), Doyle said.
Skipping the third parties means Herschend can save on fees while also taking advantage of other organizational synergies, such as using just one human resources team, accounting team, or security team across hotels and the theme park.
Preferring Year-Round Hires Over Seasonal
Parton and her partners have found ways to position Dollywood as a year-round destination through a mix of recurring festivals, such as a Christmas market, a songwriter series, and visits by the Harlem Globetrotters and other performance groups. Other companies nearby run shopping outlets, an indoor aquarium, and other indoor attractions for the winter months.
Running year-round is important for attracting the best labor talent at the hotels, Doyle said. Being able to provide consistent work — instead of seasonal — encourages employees to stay on.
“For that short 60- to 90-day period of low occupancy, we much prefer to keep everybody employed,” Doyle said. “It provides a much better experience when the spring comes, and there’s an influx of park attendance. We’ve positively impacted our NPS scores by double digits just by not being unprepared and not scrambling to hire and train.”
Dollywood Parks and Resorts recently built housing with more than 600 beds for international students and other staff needing places to stay. Medical and financial services for staff are available on-site.
Dollywood’s HeartSong Has a Personal Touch
One advantage of running hotels without third-party help is being able to customize the experience. Parton’s brand is all about her abiding appreciation for Tennessee. The color and decor choices can reflect a personal style rather than a generic national brand’s rules.
Dolly Parton’s hotels have different themes. While her first had a motif of her glamorous, global life as a performer, HeartSong aims to combine a rustic lodge concept with modern comforts. In a design by DS Builders, the lobby has high wood beams, windows that aspire to evoke lanterns, and a large stone fireplace. A firepit welcomes guests to make S’mores each evening.
Guest rooms have fake fireflies illuminating bathroom mirrors, echoing a detail from Parton’s childhood.
“I have so many fond memories of the days when us kids spent hours playing in the creek and chasing fireflies after supper,” Parton said in a statement.