Kevin Kelly: President, Delaware North, Travel

My NativeAdVice:


Kevin Kelly is president of Delaware North’s travel subsidiary, which provides award-winning food, beverage and retail services at airports around the world. Delaware North is a global leader in hospitality and food service with more than $3 billion in annual revenue and 60,000 associates serving half a billion customers in North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Asia. Kelly oversees all aspects of Delaware North’s travel division, which operates more than 200 airport outlets in 20 cities, including some of the world’s busiest airports such as Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

How did you get into the industry?

To be honest, I was broke when I graduated from college and went back to my summer job because I knew food and beverage very well.

Any emerging industry trends?

The main trend is local, local, local.  Whether it’s coffee, baked goods, food items or restaurants, the more you can work with local products and partner with local chefs/brands the better the reception and interest from guests and airports.  Bringing local is really being embraced in the industry.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

The opportunity for air travel is increasing.  Travelers have greater accessibility to domestic and international travel, which makes them more knowledgeable of what can be offered in an airport.  Though the domestic air travel experience is expanding, there remains the challenge of updating the outdated aviation infrastructure in the U.S. So, there is a great need for development, and we are going to be uncomfortable as airports reinvent themselves to be in this new environment.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

My inspiration for business ideas is that we are no longer a concession food operator; we are restauranteurs.  As such, we need to work with best chefs and restauranteurs, we need to have the best product and retool our employee base so that it aligns with this new paradigm where our line cooks and chefs can produce high-end, high quality food every day.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

We are always striving for continued growth. We must be innovative in our outlook and how we try to grow.  It is imperative that restaurant industry trends are incorporated in the airport at our locations. A current example is marketplaces.  Instead of food courts, we are seeing the call for marketplaces that are made up of local concepts, brands with local chefs operating them.  We are seeing this trend in city centers all over the country and it’s now making its way into airports.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

For Delaware North, it’s all about our people:  training our chefs and getting them certified, continuous customer service training for our associates, evolving our technology platform to meet the needs of guest so that they decide how they want to interact with us.  We are focused on making sure our organization is aligned on those goals so that we can focused on our mission of delivering the best hospitality.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

We have several partners and choosing the right partner is very important. In my years of experience, I’ve also learned that I need to be a good partner as well, which means we strive to maintain an open-line of communication to ensure that we are continuously working together.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

One where they receive a quality, speed of service experience. This means they get what they want, how they want it and when they want it. When a guest/client walks away with a smile from an experience (whether it’s food or customer service) they want to share with friends AND they want to come back, we’ve done our jobs.

How do you motivate others?

I motivate others by making sure they feel part of a team that has a clear vision of the expectation of success achieved by the entire team. There’s no better feeling than achieving goals as a team… that makes work fun.  

Career advice to those in your industry?

Patience.  If you apply Warren Buffet’s rule of compounding interest to the airport hospitality industry, you would see enormous returns if you allow the compounding annual growth to amass over 5, 10 or even 15 years. It doesn’t happen overnight.  In another words, be patient, it gets easier and if you stick with it, it even gets fun!