As timeless a concept as vacation may seem, Jimmy Buffett’s hit song “Margaritaville” celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, just as the song’s eponymous resort brand debuted its first international property.
In February, the 285-room Margaritaville Beach Resort Grand Cayman made its debut on Seven Mile Beach and like the brand’s eight domestic resorts, this Caribbean property offers the same “casual-luxe” setting, paying tribute to Buffett’s musical repertoire with a License to Chill bar—named for the singer’s 25th studio album. But the resort also offers a local experience; it’s the only Margaritaville property to feature an open-air lobby and its signature restaurant Yara, meaning “place” in the language of the Caribbean’s indigenous Taino culture, will offer local fish as well as dishes born out of Nikkei cuisine, the melding of Peruvian and Japanese cooking.
“Our philosophy is not to do things in a cookie-cutter way,” said John Cohlan, CEO of Margaritaville Holdings. “Obviously there’s a very prominent Margaritaville lifestyle component that’s consistent across all of our properties, but we also like to take advantage of whatever destination we’re located in order to integrate what’s special about the area into our vacation and property experience.”
Cohlan also pointed out that while this is the brand’s first resort outside of the U.S., it certainly isn’t the company’s first international endeavor. International travelers began taking notice of the brand 30 years ago with the debut of the Margaritaville restaurant and retail outlet in Key West and that brand awareness among a global demographic has only continued to grow with restaurants in high-trafficked locations like Las Vegas, two Margaritaville vacation ownership resorts, one of which is in St. Thomas (the other is in Puerto Rico), and Margaritaville restaurants throughout the Caribbean, including locations at the Montego Bay, Jamaica and Cancun airports, in addition to retail locations in select Caribbean destinations. The company is also behind the Margaritaville at Sea restaurants located on several Norwegian Cruise Lines ships. “Anything in the Caribbean speaks loudly to Margaritaville,” Cohlan noted, adding that international expansion is a top priority for the resort brand.
So the February announcement of an all-inclusive resort concept in partnership with Karisma Hotels & Resorts was a natural evolution of the Margaritaville brand. Although few details are yet available, some of these new Caribbean properties—“Margaritaville, an All-Inclusive Experience, by Karisma”—will count among Margaritaville’s largest resorts.
Cohlan views the fusion of the Margaritaville brand with the all-inclusive segment as nothing short of a natural fit given that travelers who opt for all-inclusive holidays do so because they seek a carefree vacation where they don’t need to research reputable dining and entertainment options or calculate how much they’re going to spend on the next meal.
“The idea of arriving somewhere and not having to worry about the elements of the trip is logical and very compelling,” Cohlan said. “It’s being immersed in a vacation state of mind and that marries perfectly with what the Margaritaville brand is all about.”
Properties will feature the same casual luxury design as sister EP (European Plan) properties, with iconic features similar to the oversized blue laquer flip-flop statue that stands in the lobby of Margaritaville’s Hollywood, FL resort. Signature Jimmy Buffett dining and bar concepts like the 5 o’Clock Somewhere bar, LandShark Bar & Grill and JWB Prime Steak & Seafood will also carry over to the all-inclusive resorts, but Margaritaville will additionally leverage Karisma’s Gourmet Inclusive Experience, focusing on gastronomic cuisine, innovative design and highly personalized service.
The concept has proven successful for Karisma’s seven existing brands located in Mexico, the Caribbean, Latin America and Europe. “What really impressed us about Karisma was the quality of the experience that they deliver and the quality of the their management as well as their focus on F&B, which has always been a major differentiating factor for them,” Cohlan explained.
Back Stateside, Margaritaville turned its attention to Florida where the 349-room Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort opened in late 2015. With eight F&B venues on-property as well as on-site entertainment that ranges from Adirondacks chairs set around fire pits and free music five nights a week at the Hollywood Beach Band Shell to a surf simulator and paddle board and kayak rentals, Cohlan describes the property, which operates as an EP resort, as similar to an all-inclusive resort in that it’s self-contained.
The Hollywood property brought Margaritaville resorts’ presence in the Sunshine State to two, including the Margaritaville Beach Hotel in Pensacola Beach. But earlier this year, the company went back to its roots when it reflagged a Westin to become the 178-room Margaritaville Key West Resort and Marina. Clearly, the move was as much opportunistic as it was intentional; Buffett wrote the song Margaritaville in Key West and so Cohlan called the southernmost Margaritaville resort in the U.S. “an authentic version of that state of mind.”
But he further denoted the state of Florida as the country’s greatest representation of the celebrated “Margaritaville state of mind,” likening the mindset to a cultural identity that all vacation-goers to Florida seek, whether they stay at a Margaritaville property or simply embrace the idea of escapism.
The end game is to capture even more leisure travelers visiting Florida. So a fourth Margaritaville resort is on the dockets; slated to open its first phase later this year is the $750 million Margaritaville Resort Orlando, which will not only serve as an accommodations option for area theme park guests, but will also be a destination in its own right. The property will be complete with: a 187-room hotel; 1,000 vacation homes; 300 timeshare units; 30,000-square-feet of function space; 200,000-square-feet of retail space; a dining and entertainment district; a 12-acre water park; spa and wooded fitness trails; and a destination water taxi system, this resort—sitting on 300 acres at the entrances to Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Pandora parks—will be the penultimate in Margaritaville-branded vacation experiences.
Early returns on the multi-million dollar investment are already proving positive, according to Cohlan, as interest in home sales have surpassed expectations. But he also admitted that an Orlando location is long overdue. However, it was a matter of finding an opportunity that was commensurate with the power that the Margaritaville brand holds in destination.
Of course, Margaritaville as a brand also hits home with travelers to the brand’s other four resorts, all located in the Southeast U.S. But Cohlan is also betting that the resort product can resonate with travelers to other parts of the U.S., including major cities like Las Vegas where they’re currently working on a project, although details have yet to be announced.
“The brand is about a vacation state of mind and we believe you’re entitled to relax and escape in a city as well as at the beach,” Cohlan said.