As you walk through the unforgettable coastal mangroves, sawgrass prairie and pine flatwoods of the Everglades you are greeted by prehistoric-looking alligators and crocodiles, more than 300 gorgeous species of fish and birds and, if you’re lucky, the endangered Florida panther. It doesn’t take long to understand how rich with life this place is, or why it was the first National Park created primarily to preserve its delicate ecosystem rather than just its geographic features. You quickly discover why this is one of the most visited National Parks in the country.
Within the Everglades and at its southern-most tip, the Flamingo Visitor Center was built in the 1960s to provide necessary services for Everglades’ guests. Unfortunately, due to its location, the Visitor Center perpetually faces raging hurricanes and tropical storms. Hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Irma bombarding the Visitor Center over the years have resulted in lodging and many other much needed services being rendered completely unavailable.
Today, the National Park Service looks to restore Flamingo in the hopes of returning this beautiful park to international prominence, and Guest Services, Inc. is honored to have been chosen to help lead the way.
“The National Park Service needed an organization they could trust. They needed a company with a great track record, one with which they had successful business experience and one they knew could execute such a large-scale project,” says Scott Shepherd, chief commercial officer of Guest Services, Inc.
“NPS knows the reputation we have for fulfilling our obligations by going above and beyond with our projects. They’ve seen our success with renovations at Mt. Rainier, the National Mall, and our other treasured parks across the country. They’ve seen our experience in boating with the houseboats on Lake Roosevelt and our excellence in water sports at renowned waterways all across the country. We are grateful to be the ones they chose and we are excited to show them, once again, the extent of our capabilities.”
The project will comprise an overhaul of the visitor center, marina and campgrounds with contemporary renovation plans to renew and improve infrastructure by adding 24 cottages and 20 eco-tents, a full service restaurant, retail services and a fully functional marina. In addition to our legendary hospitality, we will be introducing our renowned recreational services.
“We see the park being a vibrant destination where visitors can choose from a deep variety of once-in-a- lifetime experiences like world class fishing tours, unique paddle boarding and boating with diverse wildlife, hiking through extraordinary trails, convenient yet adventurous camping, and more,” says Michael Aghajanian, president of the recreation division at Guest Services, Inc. “We also envision superior service options that will exceed visitor expectations by providing them with whatever they need from fishing and boating equipment, camping supplies and tents to everyday general store goods.”
It’s more than just improving upon the current visitor services; it’s about how we are innovating to provide the best possible memories for our guests. “We are building local relationships with breweries and local food sources, and tapping into existing southern Florida community connections to create an authentic experience. The eco-tents and cottages we are constructing are going to bring a new Everglades adventure unlike anything the park has ever seen. I can’t wait for visitors to see what we have in store, and I’m also ecstatic about the future of our employee housing. Our staff is our priority when it comes to providing the best visitor experience so we want to provide them with the finest possible housing. Our renovation plans include improving comfort and incorporating general contemporary enhancements to give our employees a greater sense of home. Luckily the views of the Florida Bay from the housing area are unreal and don’t need improving upon. You can’t beat the sunsets there,” says Michael.
After Flamingo is restored, renovations are finished and all necessary services are in place, conserving and protecting our operations will become the challenge especially with the constant, imminent threat of hurricanes.
Irma was one of the costliest storms in US history. The damage caused was commonly reported in the high hundreds of millions of dollars. Some things are just impossible to prepare for, but that doesn’t mean you can’t limit your exposure. Michael says, “We’ve already begun constructing our comprehensive emergency plan. Yearly storm preparedness drills, staging critical equipment such as sandbags, generators, shovels, and water in storage containers and having a detailed process for making timely critical decisions are a few pieces of the strategy. We are at an incredible advantage by already having so many Guest Services, Inc. employees with experience in storm emergencies. Hopefully, all of this will help ensure the future of our operations in the area.”
Officially, our operations in the Everglades began on December 12, 2017 and will run for the next 20 years until our contract is up. We are extremely proud of this project. It is a win that should be celebrated company-wide. Scott says, “It’s an exciting time at Guest Services. This contract adds yet another iconic park into our increasingly impressive portfolio, and there’s more on the horizon. Here we’ve been given a phenomenal opportunity with a blank canvas. What we accomplish in the Everglades will be a strong representation of who we are, what we offer and where we will be in the next century of service to come.”