How to master the staycation, with Margaritaville’s Cate Farmer



Who are staycation travelers, what are they looking for in travel and how to cater to this broadening niche is the subject of our latest podcast, as Cate Farmer, SVP of hotels and resorts for Margaritaville Hotels & Resorts, joins host Robin Trimingham.






Highlights from Today’s Episode

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Episode Transcript

Cate Farmer: Maybe it’s late checkout. Maybe you’re coming in on a flight from New York and you got an early flight in and you want to just be able to check in early or have a room to change and hit the pools and all of the amenities. And it’s early arrival. So there is a lot of ways that we reward our guests. Immediately, it’s instant gratification and it’s based on what they prefer. So I really love our loyalty program. I think it’s the way the industry is moving growing up. 

Robin Trimingham: Welcome to the Innovative Hotelier podcast by Hotels magazine with weekly thought provoking discussions with the world’s leading hotel and hospitality innovators. Welcome to the Innovative Hotelier podcast brought to you by Hotels magazine. I’m your host, Robin Trimingham. Flip flops, cool music and a warm breeze typify the laid back vibe at most Margaritaville destinations. But there’s something far more unique going on than what you find at a typical beachfront property. With over 25 resorts and hotels and another ten more in development, Margaritaville has some locations which follow well established models such as their all inclusive resorts in the Dominican Republic and Mexico and their resort style New York City hotel. But many of their properties break the traditional molds, such as their RV lodge combination resorts called Camp Margaritaville and their waterside hotels located not in traditional Tier one tourist destinations, but rather near metro areas. These properties are having tremendous success in appealing to the staycation traveler. Which brings me to our topic today. Join me now as we chat with Kate Farmer, senior vice president of Hotels and Resorts for Margaritaville, about who the staycation traveler is, their demographics, how to appeal to them, and whether this trend is on the upswing or whether COVID was the high point of the staycation traveler. For the last 50 years, Groupe GM has been a leader in the luxury cosmetic amenities industry. The group proposes a 360 solution from manufacturing to distribution, with over 40 international brands in its worldwide distribution network. Group offers different shapes and sizes of eco friendly products in hotels all over the world. Discover more on That’s Group with an E. Welcome, Cate. Thanks so much for taking time to chat with me today. 

Cate Farmer: Hi, Robin. Thank you so much for asking. 

Robin Trimingham: Well, I’m very interested to learn a lot more about Margaritaville during our time together. But I think to start us off, since the events of the past two years, aka COVID, have changed things so much, we better start off by setting the landscape for people. In your mind, what’s the difference between what we’ll call a staycation or and a regular vacationer in terms of, okay, a staycation or is staying locally, but how locally now would you say? 

Cate Farmer: Oh, that’s interesting. Depending on the city or the market that that person lives in. Staycation can mean literally your back door. It can be in Manhattan, for example. People aren’t leaving the city, but they’re having a staycation in their own city. And some of the more spread out areas, maybe Texas, for example. It can be 90 minutes, two hours just outside of where they live. But not so far that they have to get in a plane or plan for transportation and multiple ways of getting around. So it’s a quick drive generally for a staycation. 

Robin Trimingham: So if you can get there in your own vehicle, then are there any other differences in terms of what they’re interested in or the number of days that they would typically stay? 

Cate Farmer: Yeah. Generally speaking, a staycation tends to be a little bit shorter in duration than a true vacation, and probably started from the idea that it was a little bit more budget conscious and you could stay in your own city and really explore everything that it had to offer or maybe that you didn’t even realize was there. And to take advantage of getting to know your own city, your own place of living and and hit the reset button and really do that in a shorter window of time. So I think both a vacation and a staycation are that opportunity to relax, to reset, to enjoy family and friends. But a staycation allows you to do that, maybe just for a little bit less money, a little bit closer to home and in a little bit shorter window of time. 

Robin Trimingham: I think it’s interesting how people begun to explore different ways of taking a break and finding new things that they never even realized were right around them. I was doing a little reading in preparation for a conversation, and I found an interesting statistic on statistics. Com which said that in 2020, only 51% of American adults knew what the term staycation meant. But by 2022, that number had jumped to about 75%. In your impression, how has the US domestic leisure travel trend continued to evolve? Like where are we at currently? 

Cate Farmer: Well, I think that’s so interesting. And any word a good idea took hold and what people maybe didn’t identify with or hadn’t even knew was in their vernacular is something that is almost commonplace now just a couple of years later. So that’s great. And I don’t know necessarily that the idea of staycation is new, but maybe the name for staycation is new. People have enjoyed traveling in their own cities and have enjoyed that opportunity previously. But definitely the last couple of years have this renewed sense of importance around that reset. And now that people have gone back into the workforce and they’ve started to go back to the grind, it’s even more important that they’ve prioritized that need and ability to just reset. So I think we’ll continue to see that in travel trends, and I don’t think that will go away. People have prioritized what’s important personally, and that’s being able to spend time with their families and their friends doing activities and things that they enjoy. And so the beauty of a staycation is there’s so many cool things within your own geographic world that you might not normally do, whether it be activities or museums or art installments. Just there’s so much to do restaurants. And that’s really the beauty of a staycation. So I do see that trend continuing. And I also see the trend of longer weekends that has emerged. And so I think as people have had this flexibility to work from home and that statistic too, has grown over the last couple of years, people are able to really work from wherever they might be. And so you see today’s and Monday’s morphing into weekend stays. And I think that leisure travel continues. So I think that bodes well for both that leisure and that experiential side of the business. 

Robin Trimingham: Yeah. I have to say, I really do agree with you because when we were all working at home, because we had no choice, for some of us anyway, the workday just got longer and longer as we kept trying to pack one more thing into our time and we were all thinking, Oh, we’ll just we’ll be back in the office in a couple of weeks. And of course, we all know that’s not what happened at all. And the interesting thing. Was to watch people wake up and realize, Oh, I really do need a mental reset. I really do need some time with the family, some time on my own, whatever the case may be. So talk to me then about what your typical staycation guest is looking for in terms of amenities or price point as opposed to somebody who would be heading to a destination resort. 

Cate Farmer: So I think for both those guests, the amenities are important and the offerings are important. I think when you look at the destination style vacation, the guest, the consumer has a little more time to plan and prepare. So they’re going to be doing a lot of research about what they want to experience, you know, the activities they might look for, adventure travel, or perhaps they’re researching restaurants and seeing who the chef is and what kind of ratings they’ve had. So they have a little more time and they’re really invested in the whole experience with the staycation, they might have a little less time. So making it easier, but still having a lot of options and offerings and things for that person to experience are very important. We as the hoteliers, have the ability to do the best of the best. We know everything. We’re kind of like that inside person. We know what’s really the cool and the greatest things in the community. Sometimes we have access to tickets or information about new things that are coming that might not be on their radar. And so making it easy for that staycation owner to experience all of those things as well as the amenities and activities within the resort are really important. And then just packaging it in a way that the guest doesn’t have to do a lot of work. 

Robin Trimingham: I love how you put that because you’re right when you think about what do you want to achieve out of a staycation, a long weekend, if you will, You’re really just looking for a way to unplug to for things to be easy, to go and have a simple but comprehensive experience at the same time. I think it might be fair to say that Margaritaville is the original staycation brand, at least in some respects. How has the competitive landscape changed during your watch? 

Cate Farmer: It is, and I think Margaritaville just really does deliver fun and escapism. And so that’s really what that is all about, that experience that people are looking for. And so I think we do that really well and people gravitate towards our resorts and our hotels For that reason. I think the landscape has evolved as more people look for places that are approachable and offer experiences. And so you definitely see that becoming much more spoken about, much more promoted because ultimately that’s what people are looking for. They’re looking for places that offer a wide variety of things to do and ways to do it. And I think we have definitely been able to offer that for a long time and throughout the pandemic, and we continue to be a leader in that space. 

Robin Trimingham: Let’s talk a little bit about how you’re selecting locations. As everybody who listens to this podcast knows, I’m from a tropical island, a very small place, and when I think about the great state of Texas, you guys, I understand, have a resort at Lake Conroe. In my mind, that’s what, three hours south of Dallas and an hour and a half north of Houston. Okay. So in my naive mind, I’m picturing Longhorn cows steers and I’m sure that’s all wrong. So how do you guys go about figuring out the best place to put a Margaritaville? 

Cate Farmer: Well, it’s a good question. And Lake Conroe is a great example. It’s the perfect destination location to be close to Houston and Dallas, as you said, but away from it all. And there are so many activities. It’s a phenomenal place. We’ve got pontoon boats and we have boating and lake activities. We have pickleball, we have golf, we have a gorgeous spa, we have walking trails. There’s so much there, a huge fitness center classes. So it just never stops. But it’s paradise. It is just this close to the city, but far away from what you would normally experience in Dallas or in Houston or any other of the large cities in Texas. So a lot of it is exactly that, really looking at locations that you can deliver that Margaritaville state of mind in the environment that it is. And so we have great locations and resorts and properties in the Great Smoky Mountains, for example. And it delivers. Exactly. At lots of amenities, but bespoke and a sense of place too. What Margaritaville and that sense of state of mind is. 

Robin Trimingham: So how you would do Margaritaville in the Smoky Mountains? I think that’s absolutely fascinating. Did you know that offering top cosmetic brands is a delight for your guests? For the last 50 years, group has been a leader in the luxury amenity industry. The group proposes a 360 solution for manufacturing to distribution on cosmetic amenities and dry accessories, with over 40 international brands such as Guerlain Nukes, Atelier Cologne. The group offers different shapes and sizes of eco friendly products in hotels all over the world. This is possible thanks to its worldwide distribution network. Thanks to their Care about the Earth Program, you can offer your guests top cosmetic products with a reduced environmental impact. Discover more on That’s Group with an E So when you’re operating a long standing leisure concept, how do you walk the line between remaining true to your brand? Who and what you really are and staying top of mind when you’re competing for market share? 

Cate Farmer: Well, it is really important about staying true to who and what you are as a brand, but also being willing and aware of the changing landscape and changing trends. Being innovative in that space, just because you are true to your brand does not mean you don’t know what people want and how they want to travel. And so that’s where it’s super important to be aware of trends and how those trends impact the consumer choice. And we deliver fun and escapism. That’s always going to be what’s important to us and that Margaritaville state of mind. But we can also be very aware that people love to play pickleball and let’s make sure that we’re providing those type of things and being a leader in that space. 

Robin Trimingham: I don’t think fun and escapism are ever actually going to go out of style, so you’re onto a good thing. You must be very interested though, in repeat customers. Does Margaritaville have a loyalty program and how does that all work for you guys? 

Cate Farmer: We do. And I love our loyalty program because it’s easy again for the consumer. It isn’t about tiers and levels and redemption, and it isn’t difficult to figure out and worrisome that you’re going to fall below your level. So you have to do X, Y or Z. So we implemented our Perks program a year ago, and over Valentine’s Day, actually we launched it and it’s a direct value enhancement. So you get rewarded on what interests you, what you like. So I remember when I was traveling, when my kids were little, we would always want to stay an extra hour just to enjoy the resort and the pools. So maybe it’s late checkout. Maybe you’re coming in on a flight from New York and you get an early flight in and you want to just be able to check in early or have a room to change and hit the pools and all of the amenities. And it’s early arrival. So there is a lot of ways that we reward our guests immediately. It’s instant gratification and it’s based on what they prefer. So I really love our loyalty program. I think it’s the way the industry is moving. 

Robin Trimingham: I’m loving what I’m hearing because you’re right, I’ve had so many complicated loyalty programs come and go through my life and they can turn you off as much as they can build relationships if they’re not done right. And I love that you guys are really focusing on the very simple kinds of things that just about anybody would appreciate. So I understand that the international travel forecast is supposed to increase by about 19% in the first six months of this year. How do you anticipate that this is going to impact domestic leisure and the staycation market? 

Cate Farmer: Great question, Robin. I always mess these up, but rising tide lifts all boats, I think is the saying when the demand for international travel rises, so does the demand for domestic travel. And so they go hand in hand. And it’s a wonderful thing that international demand goes up because it means both ways. It means we’re seeing international travel come back here domestically as well as going. But it also it also is that time where people there might be people traveling and willingness to travel internationally. But there’s a lot of people that are still not there yet. And so right now, I think we’re seeing domestic travel maintaining its strength and we’re also seeing international travel rebound. And so it’s really a good time. 

Robin Trimingham: That’s an excellent point. And you’re actually the first one that I’ve heard express it that way. Hoteliers across the board are fairly optimistic that this is going to be a good year. But staffing continues for a lot of brands to be a bit of an issue. You guys have a very cool vibe. I understand that you even also at your Hollywood beach location, have a mentorship program. How are you guys faring with staffing your properties? You’re finding that a challenge or is that really easy because you’re Margaritaville? 

Cate Farmer: Well, I think that for everyone, it’s complicated. It’s complicated for Margaritaville as well as for everyone else in this space. But it’s how you approach it. I love our mentorship program, and I think the ability to have young talent learn and be part of your leadership team is really key. It helps you stay relevant and it helps you also develop talent to continue in that in the leadership. So it’s great program. We also have a college ambassador program and I love this as well because we really have a funnel of talent to pull from because we’re investing in college students and they’re part of our ambassador program throughout their college years, and then they’re able to work in our properties when they graduate. And so some of them might choose to work for a couple of years, They might pursue graduate programs, they might not be in hospitality space forever. But it’s a really great way to get young, hard working talent that is already familiar with your brand across the board. I think talent is going to be something that we continue to talk about in the hotel space, and the key is really going to be how flexible can we be? Hotels have been traditionally a little more structured in what they need, a 7 to 3 shift, a 3 to 11 shift an 11 to 7 shift. No, you have to work full time or it’s these type of things. Well, I think if anything we’re learning is the more flexible, we can be. Shorter shifts maybe. In between school hour shifts or later afternoon shifts, whatever that might be, It’s helpful. 

Robin Trimingham: I love that you have a college program. I think that’s such a great way to show younger people that you really can have like a robust career in hospitality. Talk to me a little bit about your experiences with COVID, how it impacted your operation generally, and what advice you can offer. Other staycation brands and properties that are still struggling to recover from its impact. 

Cate Farmer: Sure. So I think with COVID Margaritaville as a brand did very well because we are designed with a lot of outdoor spaces and big spaces. So people were able to navigate and still maintain their experiences and their vacation within our spaces. They were able to do. A lot of it was outdoors. We have a lot of outdoor music, so that’s really been important and key. And as the world begins to rebound from COVID and we start to see people’s comfort level increasing, I think the real importance is ensuring that on the service side we deliver a message that we’re going to make sure everything we do is keeping you safe. We’re going to spend the time cleaning. We’re going to ensure that’s a pristine environment, that your spaces and your activities and your amenities allow you to enjoy and not feel like you have to do the cleaning or you have to make sure you’re not in a crowded environment, that there’s a lot of different offerings and a lot of different amenities in ultra clean, really available spaces. 

Robin Trimingham: That’s really good to hear. And I think that as we go forward and things recover a little bit more, I really feel like a lot of staycation brands are just going to find their footing again because I think there’s never going to be a time when we don’t have a need for this, a market for this. We’ve got a minute or two left here. Can you give us one piece of actionable advice that our hotel listeners can implement at their properties to better attract staycation guests? 

Cate Farmer: Sure. If you can know what’s the most attractive offerings and amenities in your own destination, if you can really create your top ten list of things that you would do, what are your top ten items if you were traveling? If you were vacationing in your own city, what would you want to do? What would you want to see? Where would you want to eat? How would you do it? And if you can create that and make it easy for your guests, then you’ve really set yourself apart from other locations. 

Robin Trimingham: Well, that’s good advice that I think anybody can use. Kate, I want to thank you so much for your time today. You’ve been listening to the innovative hotelier. Join us again soon for insights, specifically for the hotel and hospitality industry. 

Cate Farmer: Thanks so much, Robin. 

Robin Trimingham: You’ve been listening to the Innovative Hotelier podcast by Hotels magazine. Join us again soon for more conversations with hospitality industry thought leaders. 

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