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Business Observer Friday, Sep. 13, 2019 2 years ago

Luxury hotel on barrier island remarketing itself following $320M renovation

JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort is aiming big in the intense hustle for high-end clients.
by: Jay Schlichter Lee-Collier Editor

In the world of luxurious resorts, it can be a challenge for one opulent, four-star hotel to distinguish itself from the rest — particularly in luxury-laden Collier County. 

A view of the entrance into the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort. Contributed photo.

The owner of the 810-room JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort — financial services and global investment firm Barings — believe it has an edge in the property's recently completed three-year, $320 million renovation. It hopes the investment will convince more companies to host their conventions and more families to stay for vacations at the transformed hotel, which now has an additional 84 rooms to book prior to the project. 

The resort’s executives, following the project, also now seek new and inventive strategies to rebrand and market it to both new and previous clientele.

“Following the recent investment, it really gave us a brand new hotel to sell,” Director of Sales and Marketing Amanda Cox says, pointing out the renovations touched every aspect of the resort. “From a marketing perspective, it has been more like marketing a hotel opening.”

Some of the changes and additions made to the 30-acre resort include five new restaurants, a 12,000-square-foot entertainment center and the new eight-story Lanai Tower, which offers more than 100,000 square feet of technologically integrated event and meeting space.

'Following the recent investment, it really gave us a brand new hotel to sell.' Amanda Cox,JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort

The hotel, situated directly facing the Gulf of Mexico on Marco Island’s South Collier Boulevard, also added an adults-only experience called Paradise by Sirene, with 94 rooms, bars, pools and other spaces dedicated solely for those 21 and older.

The additions to the resort resulted in a need for more employees, with the hotel going from a staff of roughly 750 prior to the renovations to nearly 1,150. Finding staff is a long-term challenge, say hotel officials, mostly because those interested in service industry jobs often live far from the Marco Marriott. One solution? The hotel has transported employees from their homes up north to the resort.

Cox and fellow senior marketing colleagues Tracy Tirrell say they believe the additional and reimagined spaces built throughout the resort, which were designed by Coral Gables-based architectural firm EoA Group, will allow them to market and sell to a new breed of customers.

Guests take part in a floating yoga session at the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort. Contributed photo.

So much so that Cox says the Marco Island Marriott should now be compared to top-tier hotels, such as the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach or the Diplomat Resort in Hollywood. She says that is due to the resort now offering more enriching experiences than some of its direct, local competitors, such as The Ritz-Carlton, Naples or Hilton in Naples.

Although a major part of the resort’s focus is understandably on providing an unparalleled vacation for its guests, a majority of its revenue comes from conventions and meetings. Resort executives declined to provide specifics related to annual revenues but revealed about 60% of the hotel’s income comes from events, with the other 40% room bookings.

In the hopes of attracting new companies considering a space for their next convention or seminar, the hotel chain’s Convention and Resort Network recently hosted the second iteration of a 48-hour film challenge at the Marco Marriott. The event, held Aug. 22-24, consisted of four, five-person amateur film crews shooting a reality show-type of production, focusing on what it takes the hotel staff to transform their event spaces into “imaginative and dynamic” spots. The crews were given a theme and provided with meeting space at the Marco resort as a set to film their short, five-minute movies, which were judged by industry experts. “The whole premise of the festival was to target event planners,” Cox says.

In addition to the film challenge, Cox says the resort is also planning on participating in a culinary roadshow. Several of the hotel’s chefs will travel via an Airstream food trailer to four cities, where they will compete with others in what will also be turned into a reality show film production.

Although it’s too early to tell if the film challenge and other planned events will result in an increase in conventions, hotel officials say occupancy rates have been steadily increasing. In 2018, for example, the occupancy rate was 76%, up 8.5% over the previous year. Officials project occupancy to surpass 80% in 2019. 

Room rates range from the low $200s to the high $800s per night, with rates fluctuating significantly due to seasonal high demand in the busy winter months. But even with high seasonal rates and hotel executives throwing around Fontainebleau comparisons, Cox doesn't want the hotel to lose its island-time, relaxed vibe. “Where we have tried to position ourselves is to be the leader in approachable luxury,” Cox says. “We want you to feel comfortable in our lobby in flip-flops.”

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