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Behind the List with Rob Howell of Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort'Abundance of opportunity for visitors, guests'

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Rob Howell, general manager of The Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort, says the resort takes advantage of its focus on golf, history and the natural environment, including the nearby national park and Delaware River.
Rob Howell, general manager of The Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort, says the resort takes advantage of its focus on golf, history and the natural environment, including the nearby national park and Delaware River. - (Photo / )

The Pocono Mountains are a premier destination for vacationers looking to escape the everyday hustle and bustle.

One resort, in particular, that has had a strong presence in the region for more than a century is The Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort in Shawnee on Delaware.

Here to answer this week’s “Behind the List” questions and talk about the family owned business is Rob Howell, general manager of the resort.

Lehigh Valley Business: How long has The Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort been operating in the region and what are its primary services?

Rob Howell: The Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort opened as the Buckwood Inn in May of 1911. In 1943, it changed its name to Shawnee and has been operating ever since.

The resort has always been a destination for overnight lodging, golf and enjoying the natural beauty of the Pocono Mountain area. Our primary services also include our ‘day-stination’ spa and salon, graceful weddings, robust recreation program, river trips, playhouse, meeting and event services, team building and operating our own craft brewery.

LVB: What have been some of the biggest challenges and opportunities that The Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort has encountered throughout its years in business?

Howell: Our location affords us a multitude of opportunities. Being right on the Delaware River allows us to boast an all-natural water park and take our guests on canoe, kayak, raft and pontoon boat rides.

Nestled against the 70,000-acre [Delaware Water Gap] National Recreation Area affords us the ability to escort guests on guided hikes, waterfall tours, biking along the McDade Trail and other opportunities to get outside and engage with nature. Being 75 miles from New York City and 2.5 miles off Interstate 80 makes our location convenient to millions of people who want to get away and relax, recreate and rejuvenate.

We also have the opportunity to crow about our history and show it off to the visitors who come to the resort. Many celebrities have visited Shawnee over the years (Jackie Gleason, Lucille Ball, Perry Como, Bob Hope, Eddie Fisher, Cab Calloway and more), as well as celebrated golf professionals (Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Walter Hagan and Hale Irwin, to name a few).

These stories give a richness and mystique to the resort that doesn’t come with new construction.

Our location has also been a challenge. Being on the edge of the Delaware River, sometimes Mother Nature needs to remind us who is the boss. When the waters rise over the banks, our staff must rise to the challenge to protect this majestic lady from the unforgiving capacity that water possesses. It has been a test of our will in the past, and we hope that it will be a long time until we are tested again.

Being a seasonal business has always been a challenge for the resort. It definitely tests our creativity and resolve to attract professional staff members and ensure consistent service to our guests.

LVB: What are some of the perks of being a family owned business?

Howell: Quick decisions. The line from staff to manager to owner is short. Changing quickly to adapt to market forces, new challenges or guest requests is much easier and allows us to be more nimble to take advantage of opportunities.

Heart. When you have a family business, there is a lot of personal passion and family nuances that go into the business. This makes your staff members a bit more engaged because they can see the commitment that the owners have for the resort.

LVB: The Poconos are a premier resort destination for vacationers and other visitors. How does The Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort attract visitors year-round?

Howell: Keeping the resort operating year-round is something we talk about every day. We are fortunate to have our golf course, which is a strong attractor May through mid-October, and nearby Shawnee Ski Mountain which assists December through February.

It is what we call the shoulder months that are the biggest challenges, November, March and April. These are the times that challenge our imagination. Corporate meetings, retreats and stay-cationers are markets we reach out to during these times.

We offer specials that one cannot get any other times of the year, themed weekends, beer-pairing dinners in our craft brewery, educational opportunities, and we are always reading and learning about new things we may do to increase our business.

LVB: How does The Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort directly stimulate the local economy? How does it get involved with the local communities?

Howell: We employ over 350 people in our peak season. They are local. Hopefully they spend their money with our local businesses.

We buy local whenever possible. The soap and other room amenities we use are purchased from a small business in Stroudsburg. We purchase produce and other items from local farms for our restaurants, and we encourage the use of local photographers, DJs [disc jockeys] and bakeries for our event business.

Our involvement and support of the local community are important. We host a free community dinner once a month November through March. Anyone that is struggling and needs a meal may come.

We host a free community concert every Tuesday throughout the year, rain or shine. We hold events and donate to many local charities.

I am the president of Stroudsburg Rotary, a very active international service organization that donates time, money and talent locally, regionally and abroad.

LVB: What does the future look like for The Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort?

Howell: In the words of Timbuk3, “Our future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”

We have been in operation for over 100 years and we are looking at the next 100 years. If we continue to concentrate on strengthening our focus on golf, history and our natural environment, we will certainly separate ourselves from the rest of the facilities.

Our vision is to create unique experiences that people can only have a Shawnee. We are doing that by emphasizing those things that are unique to our location.

Our craft brewery allows us to offer creative events, live music opportunities, tours and tastings that cannot be offered at any other Pocono Mountain location. Our proximity to the Appalachian Trail, McDade Trail and Delaware River allow us the access that many other resorts do not possess.

We will be developing educational opportunities and forging partnerships that will ensure our success many years into the future. The Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort relies on exceptional service to its guests and a commitment by its staff and ownership. We are working every day to make this happen and secure our future.

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Christopher Holland

Christopher Holland

Christopher Holland is a researcher for Lehigh Valley Business and blogs on arts and entertainment in the region.

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