Margaritaville: Building An Empire On Relaxation

by Harvey Chipkin
Margaritaville: Building An Empire On Relaxation

A rendering of Margaritaville Resort Orlando. Photo: Margaritaville

For a hotel company built on relaxation, Margaritaville is in a very aggressive expansion mode. 

Founded by singer Jimmy Buffett, who wrote and sang the classic eponymous tune, and his business partners, the company started with restaurants, merchandise, and music. For the past five years, it’s moved on to hotels—and its biggest developments are now in the works.

All Margaritaville properties are inspired by Buffett’s laid-back lyrics and lifestyle, with amenities and services like “License to Chill” and “5 o’ Clock Somewhere” bars. Buffett himself is very involved; he is part owner and provides “consulting and inspiration.”

John Cohlan, CEO of Margaritaville Holdings, said Margaritaville is “a synonym for paradise. It’s about fun and family and having a good time. We found with our restaurants that there is a broad demographic looking for that, including a corporate group market. We host all kinds of meetings because we are a social brand; even with a corporate meeting they want to head to the 5 o’Clock Somewhere bar after their days in the conference room.”

The largest project to date is the Margaritaville Resort Orlando, which will open by the end of 2017 on 320 acres along U.S. Highway 192. The waterfront destination will feature a 175-room hotel, 1,000 vacation homes, 300 timeshare units, 30,000 square feet of function space, 200,000 square feet of retail, a dining and entertainment district, 12-acre water park, wellness center, miles of wooded fitness trails, and a water taxi system.

Jim Wiseman, president of Margaritaville development, said the resort “is not a traditional hotel. We have a 10,000 square-foot lobby for a hotel with only 175 rooms; there is a three-acre swimmable lagoon right outside the lobby. It’s like having a Caribbean Margaritaville experience in the U.S.; it captures the escapism aspects of the brand. It’s an endless vacation concept which is about casual luxe. Guests check their egos at the door and you immediately feel like you’re in the tropics.”

While the emphasis is on the casual, Cohlan said the resorts are “high quality but accessible. It’s as much about the hammock as about the beach. Jimmy Buffett figured out early on that most people are bored and that fun is very appealing. There is a lot of cultural significance to the brand. Life is tough and when you have one week off it’s powerful to be able to escape.”

Margaritaville’s highly recognizable name outside of travel works very much to the brand’s advantage. In contrast to many lodging brands that are fighting online travel agencies for market share, Margaritaville enjoys 50% bookings directly on its website. 

The company is also reaching out to travel agents, as a group and on an individual resort basis. The Hollywood Beach property has its own “License to Chill Travel Agent Program,” offering travel professionals a multi-step training platform that provides background on the Margaritaville lifestyle, the brand’s core values, and the resort’s offerings. On completing the course, travel agents are awarded a Certificate of Completion and are then eligible to obtain rewards for bookings.

The most recent Margaritaville opening was the Hollywood property, with 359 rooms and a AAA Four Diamond rating.

Also in the works are:

  • Margaritaville Resort Biloxi (opening in next few weeks), with 373 rooms and a 55,000 square-foot entertainment center.
  • Margaritaville Grand Cayman Beach Resort, to open end of 2016 with 285 rooms in a beachfront location.
  • Negotiations are under way on potential deals in Nashville, Gatlinburg, Galveston, and Virginia Beach; and outside the U.S. in Mexico, Jamaica, and the Dominic Republic. The goal is to have 10 properties open by the end of 2018 and 20 in the next five years.
  • Margaritaville also has a partnership with Wyndham Vacation Ownership on projects in St. Thomas and in Puerto Rico.

Wiseman said Margaritaville might fit in a city location, noting that there is a very popular Margaritaville restaurant on Chicago’s Navy Pier. He said potential locations are driven more by tourism and airlift than a resort environment.

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