The song “Margaritaville” is 40 years old, but Jimmy Buffett’s hotel chain is only beginning to make its mark among developers, according to Rick Cunningham, the company’s VP of hotel development.
PHOENIX—Forty years after the song “Margaritaville” put music fans in a relaxed state of mind, the top development executive of the hotel/resort chain of the same name is looking to continue spreading the brand’s reach.
Rick Cunningham, who spent 19 years with InterContinental Hotels Group prior to joining Margaritaville Hospitality Group as VP of hotel development in February, said the brand’s identity permeates the development and guest communities because it reflects the mindset of Jimmy Buffett, who wrote the song and spearheads all things Margaritaville.
“We are truly a lifestyle brand—the lifestyle is what people live,” Cunningham said during a break at the recent Lodging Conference. “I don’t have to explain what this lifestyle brand is. The following we’ve had for years resonates. To be part of a true lifestyle and attach a lifestyle.”
Exposure for Margaritaville includes a Sirius XM channel, 10 restaurant concepts in its portfolio—including more than 50 restaurants with the Margaritaville name—and 250 college ambassadors spreading the word. In addition, the company announced an adult active community for those 55 and over on nearly 7,000 acres outside of Daytona Beach, Florida.
“When Margaritaville approached me, I didn’t know that much about it,” Cunningham said. “The more I talked the more excited I got. To see all the consumer touchpoints, I thought, ‘Wow, this is pretty widespread.’”
Margaritaville’s collection of hotels and resorts includes:
- Margaritaville Resort Biloxi (Mississippi);
- Margaritaville Resort Casino Bossier City (Louisiana);
- Margaritaville Beach Resort Grand Cayman (Cayman Islands);
- Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort (Florida);
- Margaritaville Key West Resort and Marina (Florida);
- Margaritaville Beach Hotel in Pensacola Beach (Florida);
- Margaritaville Island Hotel in Pigeon Forge (Tennessee);
- Margaritaville Island Inn in Pigeon Forge (Tennessee);
- Margaritaville Vacation Club by Wyndham (Puerto Rico); and
- Margaritaville Vacation Club by Wyndham (U.S. Virgin Islands).
Cunningham said the brand’s hotel pipeline consists of 13 additional locations in active development, including the Margaritaville Resort Orlando, Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg, Margaritaville Resort Vicksburg, a Margaritaville Hotel in Nashville and all-inclusive resorts throughout the Caribbean in partnership with Karisma Hotels & Resorts.
The concept has no minimum or maximum room count and location isn’t a cookie-cutter approach, he said.
“We’re open to the market and what the opportunity is,” he said. “Any of the top 25 MSAs … we definitely would like to be there but it’s got to be the right location in those. Wherever we are in the market we certainly want to have corporate, but it needs to be in an area where you’re going to get good leisure exposure, too.
“I love new builds, but in some markets cost of land is prohibitive.”
The 349-room Hollywood Beach project, which opened in 2015 after a two-year construction period, has quickly become the flagship of the brand. Cunningham said it allows the company to walk potential developers through the property’s eight restaurant concepts to show them the specific direction and appeal of each offering.
“We have some very proven restaurant products … it gives hoteliers a comfort level on the F&B site that we can plug and play with,” he said. “It helps that bottom-line number that a lot of hoteliers aren’t comfortable with.”
The restaurant concepts tend to attract patrons from outside the hotel, which adds to exposure, Cunningham said.
While “Margaritaville” invokes images of sand and surf, the brand’s hotels don’t necessarily have to be located on a beach to be successful, according to Cunningham.
“People in their minds think of Margaritaville as relaxing fun,” Cunningham said. “They correlate that with places they like. In our Pigeon Forge property, they’ve done a very good job tying in the coastal feel with the mountain feel. It can be done.
“People think of the beach locations first, but lake locations are also really good,” he said, adding that Tan-Tar-A Resort in Osage Beach, Missouri, is being repositioned as a Margaritaville property. “For developers, if there’s an opportunity to reposition a lake resort, that’s something to consider. It’s designed for guests to use it as an escape—wherever it is.”