Margaritaville sings a different tune with new hotel brand

Changes in latitudes isn't the only change afoot for Margaritaville, the Jimmy Buffett-inspired hospitality company. The company is launching a new boutique select-service hotel brand called Compass by Margaritaville Hotels and Resorts.

Margaritaville Holdings CEO John Cohlan said that the new brand was a logical progression of the company’s existing hospitality endeavors, from restaurants and all-inclusive resorts to classic resorts, vacation-ownership, condos, resort homes and active living. “This was very natural for us, because this was another lodging experience that people were looking for,” he said of Compass. 

The first Compass by Margaritaville Hotels and Resorts is being developed by Floridays Development Company on Anna Maria Sound, Fla., adjacent to Minto Communities’ existing One Particular Harbour marina and condo development.

Cohlan said developers and investors will be attracted to the Margaritaville moniker and what the new brand has to offer. “We are going to be very competitive in terms of the fees that we charge developers, and presumably that will give the owner even more flexibility on pricing with customers.”

Continued M&A and consolidation within the hotel industry is another reason Cohlan thinks developers will be attracted to the brand; they want to be associated with a known commodity. “There's a real opportunity for brands that have not consolidated,” he said. “It becomes very compelling because we're not part of the consolidated larger brand group, and we have the flexibility to make it a more compelling proposition for our partner.”  

The company plans to develop Compass in city centers; by regional convention centers; college towns (SEC and ACC, Cohlan specified); and smaller destination-resort locations on beaches, lakes and mountains.

Branding a Lifestyle

While the term “lifestyle” is used regularly in hospitality, Cohlan feels that too many hotel companies use the word “very creatively, with some creative license.” The Margaritaville brand, he claimed, is more authentic in its use of the term than other hotels. “So it's very important for us to figure out how to translate that to these different lodging environments.” 

Thanks to McBride’s involvement, guests arriving at a Compass will recognize elements from the larger resorts and the restaurants, said Cohlan—a deliberate move to help bring in guests already familiar with the brand. More than 65 percent of the company’s business is direct, he said, which all goes back to the branded lifestyle concept. “We think of it as sort of a ‘casual luxe’ lifestyle,” he said. “It's casual, but it's quality. It's a place people want to go because they have an expectation of what that lifestyle is—as opposed to, ‘I'm on the road; where am I going to sleep?’” 

Beyond guests, Cohlan expects this familiarity to attract developers who may not want to risk building a large resort, but are game for 131 guestrooms. “We've really been encouraged by the response from the developer community,” he said.

Cohlan expects to announce a further five properties across the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic over the coming year. “If it's something new, it's something that, while it's new, has got a proven heritage.” 

The New Look

The company spent the last year conducting customer research and market analysis to develop the new brand, determining what elements of the larger resorts could be replicated on a smaller scale. To that end, they worked with The McBride Company—the design firm that has been behind Margaritaville's 12 existing hotels, resorts, vacation clubs and residences—to maintain the lifestyle vibe from full-service to select.

“For 21 years, we've had the same design firm do everything we do,” said Cohlan. While the design concepts have evolved over those 21 years, Pat McBride of the McBride Company has kept the overall concept consistent. “That gives us a terrific advantage because we want to call on design elements that both stand for what our lifestyle brand is, and that we know from experience over time have resonated more with consumers, and adapt some of that to this particular category.” 

The Compass prototype will be five stories high with 131 guestrooms. The interior will cover a total of 83,000 square feet, while the total footprint will require approximately three acres of land. 

Each property will include a Margaritaville-branded bar and grill in addition to a landscaped outdoor deck and patio area with fire pits, TVs, water features or a free-form pool (in warm weather markets). Compared to other select-service properties, Cohlan said the outdoor features are much more integrated into the overall public-area experience. “The backyard, if you will, is a big part of what Margaritaville stands for,” he said. “One of the larger distinctions [of the brand] is the focus on indoor-outdoor living.” 
Compass will offer a complimentary buffet breakfast that the company says is aimed at “driving loyalty while limiting operations costs.”

The guestrooms, meanwhile, will have familiar elements from larger-scale Margaritaville resorts, including the same bedding. “If you go into this room, you will know that it is for sure a close relative of the room you'd see in one of our full-service resorts,” said Cohlan. All guestrooms will have smart TVs for streaming video and music as well as oversized bathrooms with rainfall showers.

The brand will offer specific standards to guide developers, while allowing for a flexible design reflecting each property’s local surroundings and unique architectural or site plan needs.