As senior living providers look to the future, I believe they can draw inspiration and lessons from Margaritaville, the company behind Jimmy Buffett-inspired hotels, restaurants and other travel and lifestyle offerings.
Most obviously, Latitude Margaritaville projects are redefining active adult living. But last week, the company announced an expansion of Camp Margaritaville RV resorts, and this model also is worth closer consideration.
I think the RV play suggests creative directions that senior living companies could take to broaden their reach and appeal for a new generation of consumers. Specifically:
- Senior living organizations could consider tapping into the fast-growing RV market
- The boomer lifestyle of travel and intergenerational interaction should inform senior living
- Margaritaville showcases the power of strong branding, which is lacking in senior living
The RV opportunity
Two Camp Margaritaville RV resorts are already operational. The first opened in 2018 in Lake Lanier, Georgia, and the second opened earlier this summer in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Last week, Margaritaville announced a camp in Central Florida to open in early 2022. More are in the works, the company stated.
Camp Margaritaville locations are a Parrothead wonderland — the Florida location will include “Cabana Cabins, over 175 RV and Super Premium RV sites, a resort pool, Tiki Bar, entertainment stage, putting course, playground, dog parks, covered pickleball courts, beach volleyball court, arcade, and much more,” according to the announcement.
The Lake Lanier camp attracted about 350,000 people in its first year, the Gainesville Times reported. And Margaritaville anticipates rapidly growing demand:
“These highly-anticipated, upscale destinations will tap into the $38B RV industry, which is expected to nearly double in value to $64B by 2024, as happy campers nationwide continuously look for new ways to adventure,” the Sept. 17 press release stated.
Older adults are one contingent driving this RV industry growth, as reflected in statistics from the RV Industry Association:
- More than 11 million U.S. households own an RV — up 62% since 2001 — and about half of those owners are 55-and-older
- As baby boomers retire, they will enter “the age range in which RV ownership has historically been highest”
- As many as 1 million people have chosen to live and travel in an RV after retirement
Considering these statistics, I began imagining RV pads on senior living campuses across the country.
In the next few years, perhaps these pads would be utilized mostly by boomers visiting their older parents living in the community, or RVers looking for a place to park over a weekend; perhaps a senior living community could attract RVers by offering access to on-campus amenities like pools and bocce ball courts.
Or perhaps the senior living community could serve retirees living in RVs when they need health care. For instance, older adults could live on-site in an RV while receiving short-term rehab after a surgery or injury.
And senior living providers themselves could invest in RVs and utilize them in various ways; perhaps renting them out for resident or staff use, or using them for organized excursions. And in a crisis like Covid-19, the RVs could be used to house staff on-site or be used as a controlled environment for family visits. Some senior living communities brought RVs onto their premises during the pandemic, to create staff “bubbles.”
Increasing boomer appeal
Zoning restrictions, financial considerations and operational complexities might create barriers to putting RV pads on senior living real estate. But my larger point is that providers should be thinking creatively about how to attract and serve the boomers.
Many senior living executives have told me that they are proud of their communities, but they would not want to live there themselves — and they are trying to envision and create a new model for their generation.
While Jimmy Buffett fandom spans the generations, the superstar himself is a boomer, born in 1946. And Camp Margaritaville embodies the same values that are attracting thousands of boomers to Latitude Margaritaville developments.
One of these values is escapism, which has been reflected in how the boomer generation has reshaped travel through the decades. As Stephanie Rosenbloom wrote in the New York Times:
“Your lost summer backpacking through Europe? Thank the boomers who in the 1960s and ’70s made shoestring student trips to Europe de rigueur. Your naughty romp at Club Med? It was the boomers who propelled the singles resort scene to its apotheosis in the 1970s. Your posh room at the Copacabana Palace in the 1990s? Fueled by boomers’ appetite for luxury hotels.”
As they age, boomers will surely still want to travel, and Camp Margaritaville is enabling them. Senior living providers can and should do the same. Some providers already are; Sunshine Retirement, for example, offers Sunshine Travel, through which independent living residents can spend time in Sunshine properties across the country. And a senior living model under development in Europe, The Embassies of Good Living, would enable residents to stay in Embassies locations around the globe.
As boomers age, they are increasingly interested in multi-generational travel, Rosenbloom reported. Camp Margaritaville locations — which offer both adult-focused amenities like sunset cocktail cruises and kid-friendly options like water parks — are designed for all ages. But even Latitude Margaritaville active adult communities are meant to be places where younger people will be happy to spend time with their older friends and family members.
In fact, Margaritaville has a “college ambassador” program meant to “keep the brand relevant across all age groups,” Bill Bullock, president of Latitude Margaritaville with developer Minto Communities, told SHN in a Changemakers interview.
To meet boomers’ desire for intergenerational interaction, some organizations are testing out innovative approaches, such as hybrid senior living/multifamily housing models like The Canyons. But there are a lot of other options to explore in this area, from co-locating senior housing and student housing, to unique partnerships with community and health care organizations such as those that Generations is pursuing.
The power of branding
The choice of a senior living community is driven largely at the local level, by referrals from family and friends and medical professionals, and a community’s reputation. So, brand names are less important than in industries such as hotels.
At least, this is a typical perspective in senior living. As one executive with a large provider recently told me:
“I don’t think that anybody in our businesses really pulled off a universal branding strategy. Probably the closest we’ve come, I think, would be the Sunrise mansions when they were first in business and growing.”
While this may be true, I think the situation could also be changing, with Latitude Margaritaville an early example of how a celebrity-driven brand can work in the space. There is also buzz that Martha Stewart Assisted Living could be in the works, and in the multifamily sector, there are examples of buildings that bear iconic brand names, such as the Porsche Tower in Miami.
While there are plenty of reasons to deplore a celebrity- and brand-driven culture, I also see substantial benefits for senior living if this trend catches on.
For one, consumer confusion is a major issue, with many people still conflating nursing homes and senior living. And terms like “senior,” “retirement” and “assisted living” are falling out of favor, with organizations seeking to highlight concepts like wellness, purpose and fun.
Communities that are associated with well-known brands can surmount these challenges by setting expectations with a single name or word.
For instance, the Porsche Tower “reflects essential brand elements such as functional design, technical innovation and iconic, future-forward style,” the Porsche Design website states. Those brand elements are manifested in features such as a “car elevator” and “sky garages.”
Senior living providers have already started working with celebrity chefs, but now might be the right time to consider going even further, collaborating with famous individuals or brands on the overall design and operation of communities.
From wellness gurus like Deepak Chopra to sports icons like Jack Nicklaus to lifestyle and entertainment brands like Disney, I can think of many options that would be a good fit for a senior living partnership — and whether such efforts take shape sooner or later, I’m confident that Parrotheads will not be the only fanbase that gets to live together, and have a great time doing so, while they age.