Yosemite Has Lost Its Brand
Although we understand the critical importance of trademarks in preventing others from profiting from your intellectual property, we are disappointed in the move by Delaware North to try to extract $51 million from the National Park Service for a shortlist of iconic location names in Yosemite Park. To us, Delaware North is holding these properties for ransom from the American people, for a few historic names that will have little to no value anywhere else.
Let’s back up a minute – last year, Delaware North lost the contract to run hotels and concessions at Yosemite National Park. Shortly thereafter Delaware filed suit, claiming that the Park Service (or its new contracted vendor) no longer has the right to use the familiar and iconic names of historic park facilities (Ahwahnee Hotel, Curry Park, Badger Pass, the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, and Wawona Hotel). It turns out the Park service had never trademarked the names, so Delaware North took advantage of the situation and trademarked them themselves. Rather than pay a ransom to use the names, The Park Service has agreed to create new names for the facilities.
We doubt any name from Yosemite’s properties would be valuable anywhere else, because of the consumer confusion they would cause. Surely that limits the value of the trademarks, and surely Delaware could have requested a more reasonable payment. Essentially, they are forcing the Park Service to erase the fond memories of generations of families.
At first, we thought this was just a sour grapes reaction. But it turns out Delaware is in the business of filing trademarks for iconic landmark names. They run the Kennedy Space Center concession, and have filed a trademark application for “Space Shuttle Atlantis.” Apparently someone at Delaware either believes that these names will have value even when separated from the brand experiences they represent, or they simply believe this type of practice is a sound business strategy.
Name changes are not easy. Marketing and promotional materials, maps and information about Yosemite will need to be changed. Employee uniforms will require changes. Expensive signs will need to be constructed and installed at all Yosemite facilities. These changes will also need to be made by all those who are associated with the Park in some ways. Websites will all need to be changed by everybody. There will be a period of confusion and inconvenience for the public. More importantly, some of the unique heritage and character of Yosemite Valley will be lost.
The Park Service has had a difficult job, and probably not much time, to suggest new names. The Ahwahnee was a magical name with Native American heritage. The new name, The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, describes the property well but loses the emotional appeal of its environment and history. People will likely shorten the name to “The Majestic,” and there are plenty of Majestics in other places. Changing Curry Village to Half Dome Village is a good descriptive alternative, but again, it erases some of the fond memories people may have made there. Changing Badger Pass to the Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area is way too long, essentially emotionless, and people won’t say it. It lacks the ease of use and the call to nature of Badger Pass.
We’re not sure much can be done to restore the original names, so this is an unfortunate loss. We believe certain names should transcend trademark rights, and pass into the equivalent of landmark status – used for the purpose intended by the American people – not a business commodities that can be bought, sold, bartered and traded. Until that ideal is realized, however, we’d recommend that all National Parks and other facilities that belong to the people make it crystal clear that all names of the properties and facilities belong to the government, and are leased to the concessionaire for the term or cancellation of their lease.