Destinations

What It Takes to Get a National Park Ready for Tourists

Apr 05, 2014 8:00 am

Skift Take

Xanterra is growing beyond national park concessions into management and operations opening a door of opportunities that could lead to improved park experiences and facilities.

— Samantha Shankman

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GlacierNPS  / Flickr

A boat tour on Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park. GlacierNPS / Flickr


Gearing up for a busy summer in Glacier National Park in just a matter of a few months has been a big challenge for Marc Ducharme, but being the general manager of the Glacier Division for Xanterra Parks and Resorts also comes with promising opportunities.

“It was a great career opportunity for me, a big step up,” Ducharme said. “The sky is the limit. We have all kinds of different businesses.”

While Xanterra is widely known for its National Park Service concession services, the company also operates Ohio State Parks facilities, golf courses, resorts, adventure tourism businesses and a cruise line.

“Our company is definitely on an aggressive acquisition path,” Ducharme said. Last year, the company won Glacier National Park’s main concessions contract, which had long been held by Glacier Park Inc.

Ducharme, 38, was brought on board in December, and the few months since then have been spent preparing to operate five lodging facilities in the park, along with retail, food and beverage outlets and the park’s iconic fleet of red buses.

Ducharme is tailored for the task.

Raised in Ft. McMurray at the extreme northern reaches of Alberta, Ducharme has been working with GPI since 2008, managing properties such as Lake McDonald Lodge, and then working as GPI’s director of sales.

Prior to that, he worked for 10 years with Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, starting in Banff and ending at a Fairmont resort on Hawaii’s Big Island.

Ducharme previously graduated with a degree in hotel management from Cambrian College in Ontario.

After starting with Xanterra, Ducharme had limited time to accomplish a long to-do list.

“We’re a startup essentially. We had no infrastructure, a small staff and a very tight deadline,” he said.

At the top of the list was the need to establish a suitable headquarters, a laundry and warehouse facility and a storage and maintenance facility for the red bus fleet.

A building that once was occupied by a grocery store will be the headquarters, probably by July 1. The building is being refinished and refurnished, and Xanterra’s operations are temporarily housed in a former bank building on Nucleus Avenue.

The old Pamida store will serve as the laundry and warehouse facility, and Ducharme is still searching for property in the Columbia Falls area to build a red bus storage and maintenance facility.

“It will be very customized. Our needs are very specific,” he said of the building, which will have four lift bays and provide room for general engineering and maintenance operations.

A tangential task has been hiring — lots of hiring. The company will have about 35 full-time employees and 600 seasonal workers.

“We’re about 80 percent of the way” in completing those hiring goals, Ducharme said.

A core of former GPI employees will be critical for a successful operation.

“The institutional knowledge that some of the GPI people bring will be extremely helpful the first year,” he said, noting that the historic Lake McDonald Lodge and Many Glacier Hotel can be “very quirky” in terms of maintenance and engineering.

The red bus drivers, also known as “jammers,” are another key component of the new Xanterra workforce.

“The entire group of them are returning,” Ducharme said. “Not only are they coming back every year, they want to drive the same bus every year.”

Ducharme’s job also has involved working closely with park officials and Glacier Park Inc., which continues to own and manage lodging facilities around the park, including the Glacier Park Lodge.

He said there are regular meetings between Xanterra and GPI to discuss coordinating reservations, red bus routes and other topics.

While he has been busy at work, Ducharme also keeps occupied with his family and with the Whitefish Men’s Hockey League, playing on a team called The T-Wolves.

“I’ve been playing hockey all my life,” said Ducharme.

“It’s really great to have a healthy activity to look forward to every week just to get you through the winter,” he said. “It’s also good for networking. If you need anything done, someone from the hockey league does it.”

Ducharme said he and his wife, Ashley, keep plenty occupied by their 4-month-old boy, Porter.

“As new parents, every day is a learning experience,” he said. “A new job, a new baby, it all keeps me busy.”

Copyright (2014) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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