Why Did The Name of the Majestic Yosemite Hotel Change…Again?

Ahwahnee Luxury Hotel Tour

“The Majestic or The Ahwahnee—you know, that nice hotel in the Valley”—is how many conversations about reserving a luxury hotel in Yosemite Valley begin.

The name has changed several times over the years, and the general public, frankly, is not sure why. Many people speculate, surmising legal issues, whimsy, and many other reasons, but few are told the clear answer. So we will try our best to do that here, and it comes in the form of a trademark dispute.

Each national park has a concessionaire. The Grand Canyon has one, so does Zion, and Yosemite, too. These are the large companies that run many of the parks’ operations, such as taking over hotel duties, from washing the blankets and vacuuming the hallways to running the restaurants and the snack bars. Many of the concessionaires control the day-to day-operations, so you, the guest, can enjoy a relaxing time on national park land.

The federal government, on the other hand, owns the land. It is in charge of the rangers, in the form of protection, security and permits, and awarding the contracts to the concessionaires that offer the best deals. In Yosemite, one of the first and original concessionaires was the Curry Company, which was bought out in 1993 by a company called Delaware North.

And unfortunately, as times change, so do concessionaires.

In 2015, the National Park Service (the government) decided not to offer the concessionaire contract to the Delaware North (the Curry Company) again and instead put out an open bid. This resulted in a rival concessionaire, Aramark, winning the Yosemite contract. And as Yosemite’s concessionaire was changing, the business ownership of several pieces of property were to be sold and transferred to the new concessionaire, by order of the United States government.

Wawona Hotel Name Change

One of those sales was the hotel names which Delaware North cleverly trademarked upon purchase in 1993. That means the names “The Ahwahnee,” “The Wawona Hotel,” “Curry Village,” and “Yosemite Lodge” are owned exclusively by them, and those properties have a price tag. And what was it?

A strong $52 million.

Did Aramark feel that was a fair price tag? Not hardly. Instead, the company returned with a lower valuation of around $4 million, determined to prove their point. How? They would change the names, collect data on attendance, and prove that attendance would happen regardless of a hotel name, therefore lowering the price and value of the trademark.

Aramark was smart. There are costs for changing names, of course—new signs to be printed, new brochures, informing the general public, and even dealing with the PR backlash. But all of those prices combined were less than $52 million.

Best Luxury Hotel in Yosemite

So the company began to collect data at these trademarked locations. Did the attendance go down because the names were changed? No way. In 2016, in fact, the attendance was one of the highest in the park’s history (mostly because it was a large waterfall year), proving their point.

The guests do not come to Yosemite because of the names of the hotels. They come for the park itself. Therefore, the names were overpriced, and only worth $4 million, Aramark argued.

Three years later, after a battle in the courts, in June of 2019, the argument was finally settled, with a price tag for the trademarks of around $12 million. The courts didn’t side with either concessionaire, just wanting to put the issue behind them so guests could begin experiencing Yosemite normally again, whether privately or on a group trip.

As you might imagine, many more factors contributed to these Yosemite name changes, and the price tags even change based on what report you read, but these are the bare bones of the facts. Now, when you go to the park and maybe see a guide book or two with the wrong names, or someone say a name different than what you thought it was, you know the reason and can add that to the history of the famous Ahwahnee (or Majestic Yosemite) Hotel.

Contact White Wolf today to learn more or reserve your next private Yosemite tour.