Herschend Family Entertainment (HFE) makes more than a few silver dollars. The company owns and operates (or co-owns), more than 25 amusement parks in about 10 states. Properties include Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri and Tennessee's Dollywood, in partnership with country legend Dolly Parton. HFE also owns aquariums near Philadelphia and Cincinnati, and the Ride the Ducks amphibious tours in a handful of cities, including Atlanta and Philadelphia. The firm touts that it offers family entertainment "with Christian values and ethics". The family-owned company was founded in 1950 by Hugo and Mary Herschend to manage the Marvel Cave in the Ozarks, a tourist attraction that opened in 1894.
HFE expanded its portfolio of offerings in 2011 when it signed a three-year agreement to handle day-to-day management of Elitch Gardens in Denver, Colorado and Darien Lake Theme Park near Buffalo, New York. While the company manages the properties, real estate investment trust CNL Lifestyle Properties (an affiliate of CNL Financial Group) remains the owner of the two theme parks. With the addition of the two properties, HFE expects to draw a total of more than 10 million visitors annually at its parks.
In addition to growing its park holdings, HFE company expanded into a new market in 2011 when it formed H2R Market Research. The market research firm, a strategic partnership with consulting firm Jerry Henry & Associates, is designed to help clients learn more about their customers and grow their business. H2R Market Research provides research services (including surveys, telephone interviews, and focus groups) in the travel and tourism, leisure, healthcare, and retail service sectors.
Its growth period follows a tragedy for HFE; in 2010 one of its Ride the Ducks tour boats was rammed by an unmanned barge in the Delaware River in Philadelphia, causing it to capsize. The accident resulted in the death of two tourists. Afterwards, HFE voluntarily shut down its Ride the Ducks tours. The tours reopened in 2011 with a new set of safety procedures in place. – less