Compass by Margaritaville on Anna Maria Sound opened in Manatee County on July 15.
Opening a new hotel during the pandemic isn’t ideal, but France Langan is making the most of it. Langan is general manager of Compass by Margaritaville on Anna Maria Sound, a six-story, 123-room hotel that opened in Manatee County on July 15.
The roughly $28 million hotel, developed by Sarasota-based Floridays Development Co. and managed by Hostmark Hospitality Group, is the latest Margaritaville lodging concept. This first Compass by Margaritaville hotel is a smaller version of the large hotels and resorts also offered by Margaritaville, the Jimmy Buffett-inspired company with restaurants, hotels, casinos and resorts.
For Compass by Margaritaville on Anna Maria Sound, opening during a pandemic means introducing new safety procedures and navigating some changes in guest behavior, among them last-minute bookings. Despite it all, Langan says he and his staff are proceeding and they’re smiling behind their masks.
Even amid the pandemic, the hotel has had initial success. It was over half full its first weekend and close to full the second weekend, according to Langan. And that’s during July, which, along with August and September, are slower times for the area. “People tend to want to come when it’s a little cooler, but I think people are wanting to get away,” he says.
One trend he’s noticed that’s likely pandemic-driven is how far out people book rooms. Langan says the typical booking range for the area is two-and-a-half to three weeks out. Now people are booking one to two weeks out, plus there are several last-minute reservations, including walk-in traffic.
‘We were very particular to hire people who had an outgoing personality. We aren’t really worried about making sure people had hotel experience or restaurant experience. You can train for that. It’s harder to train for a personality.’ — France Langan, Compass by Margaritaville on Anna Maria Sound
The pandemic is likely also behind who’s staying at the hotel. “A lot of what we’re seeing is the Florida drive-in market,” says Langan. “I was pleasantly surprised that many of our guests were from right here in Bradenton.” Guests have also come from nearby cities such as Tampa, St. Pete, Clearwater, Sarasota and Lakewood Ranch.
The hotel originally thought it would open in May, so people who made advanced bookings for that period had to be relocated. But since promoting its July 15 opening date, the hotel didn’t lose any reservations and it only got busier than expected, Langan says. Bookings for the coming weekends are strong, and he says the hotel might be sold out after operating for only three weeks.
Opening in the midst of the coronavirus has meant instituting several new policies and procedures. “We’re certainly paying attention on daily basis to local Manatee County ordinances,” says Langan. Plus, Margaritaville and Hostmark supplied the hotel with COVID-19 guidelines.
When guests arrive, they immediately know things are different. Signage at the front door says the hotel would appreciate guests wearing masks. If guests come in without masks, staff has them available. Fancier Margaritaville masks are for sale in the provisions shop. At check in, guests receive a welcome bag with coffee pods, water and detailed instructions about safety measures. Floor decals encourage people to stay six feet apart. “Guests, upon entering the lobby, can see we’re taking COVID precautions seriously,” says Langan. “We’re smiling behind the masks. We’re washing the front desk down after you check in. You just have to put extra tasks on your checklists.”
Training employees on safety expectations has been key. The hotel focused on finding employees with a customer service priority, and it certainly had its pick. Langan says the hotel had over 3,200 applications for about 120 positions. “We were very particular to hire people who had an outgoing personality,” he says. “We aren’t really worried about making sure people had hotel experience or restaurant experience. You can train for that. It’s harder to train for a personality.”
Along with its personality-filled workforce, one advantage for the hotel during the pandemic is its access to outdoor activities, from fishing charters, bike rides and paddleboard excursions to the nearby Neal Preserve, Robinson Preserve and Anna Maria Island. The hotel also has a large pool and two restaurants — Floridays Woodfire Grill & Bar and the Compass Bar and Chill — for guests who don’t want to leave the property.
The hotel also has another obvious advantage: its Margaritaville branding, which elicits excitement from both casual Jimmy Buffett fans and all-out Parrotheads. “Its very evident throughout that this is a Margaritaville property,” says Langan. There’s a welcome cabana, signage that reads “Mi Casa Es Su Casa” and bright blue and orange decor. Sound systems pipe music throughout the property (“Cheeseburger in Paradise” anyone?) and TVs have a couple of Margaritaville channels that play, among other things, Jimmy concerts. “I think repeat guests are going to be something we’re going to really enjoy,” says Langan. “Some people checked out on Sunday and said they would be back next weekend.”