Entertainment mogul Chris Blackwell is well known in music circles for launching the careers of Bob Marley, U2, and Melissa Etheridge. Those in the travel industry know him as founder of Island Outpost, a chain of boutique hotels offering accommodations with an offbeat, tropical charm. Travel + Leisure caught up with the busy hotelier soon after his newest hotel—Cuckoo's Nest, a mountain villa in Sundance, Utah—opened just in time for the 2002 Winter Olympics.
1.Where are you right now?And where would you rather be, if anywhere?
I'm having breakfast at the Terrace at the Tides in South Beach. I am here for some Island Outpost meetings on our future developments. I would most like to be jet skiing at Goldeneye [Ian Fleming's former home—and now an Island Outpost hotel—in Jamaica].
2. How often do you travel?Is it usually for business or for pleasure?
I travel at least a few times each month, usually for business. But I try to find some leisure time in whatever I do. I love to travel, and having offices in Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Jamaica, and London means I'm always on the move.
3.What is the one item you won't travel without?
Aside from my cellular phone, I never travel without a couple of DVD's and CD's.
4.How did you get started in the travel industry?
It all started just over 10 years ago, with the Marlin in South Beach. Later, I was asked to start renting out Goldeneye, and over time I started adding hotels. As it stands today, there are 12 Island Outposts in South Beach, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and, most recently, Sundance—with more to come.
5. What should every hotel room have?
The essentials are that it should be spotlessly clean, with a comfortable bed, a telephone, a television, and a good shower. And music—absolutely something every hotel should have. All of the Island Outpost hotels have a CD stereo and a selection of CD's. Some have DVD's from Palm Pictures [a DVD production and distribution company founded by Blackwell in 1998]. In my opinion, music truly enhances the experience someone has on a trip, be it for business or pleasure. Music is an integral part of the Island Outpost experience, as it is with most of our lives on a daily basis.
6. How do the Island Outpost properties differ from other hotels?
Our properties are small, and therefore we market them very differently from traditional industry hotels. So, providing we do not disappoint, we will continue to thrive very much on a word-of-mouth basis.
7. What steps have you taken, if any, to bring back customers who are reluctant to travel for any reason?
I think we have all been so shocked by the recent events that we have to recognize that people need some time before they will travel again. Also, we are developing our Web site aggressively. The Internet really gives people access to information, pictures, and virtual tours of hotels and destinations. It really creates an amazing opportunity to preview your options of where to go, which room to request, and so on. We're always enhancing our Web site, islandoutpost.com.
8.What is the most common question asked by consumers, and how do you answer it?
Are you opening a hotel in New York?If the right opportunity were to present itself, I would love to open an Island Outpost in Harlem. We're looking for opportunities in New York, Los Angeles, Nashville and London, where our customer bases—music, entertainment, and fashion—are centered.
9.Tell us about Cuckoo's Nest in Sundance. What can customers expect?
Cuckoo's Nest is a real mountain retreat—with skiing and the Sundance Film Festival in the winter, and amazing hiking, biking, and water sports on the nearby lakes in the summer. Guests at Cuckoo's Nest can expect an experience in nature like no other. For Island Outpost, Cuckoo's Nest gives us a beautiful property in the West close to our Los Angeles ties in the entertainment industry.
10. What is the travel advice you most often give these days?
Make the effort to get away and enjoy yourself. We all get so busy with our work, families, and the craziness of life that we forget to take care of ourselves. So take a couple extra days, eat a little more, get that massage, sleep in, have another rum punch, and explore some place you've never heard of. Learn something about yourself, about others, about the world.
—Interviewed by Karen Blackman