Video marketing helps Island House Key West further expand its business

Thu. January 3, 2019 12:00 AM
by Ross Forman

Travel Trio: Key West

Sun shines at diverse 'Best Gay Resort in the World'

Since 2013, Island House in Key West – which boasts that it is the best gay resort in the world – has used slick, well-produced, emotional, meaning videos as the backbone of its marketing and advertising initiative.

They certainly work, bringing this amazing, long-running resort to life.

The end-of-the-year video, Fifty Shades of Gratitude, showcases longtime visitors, each talking about their fondest Island House memories. It's a 4 ½-minute emotional roller coaster that truly talks to so much of what Island House is, starting with, memories.

"We had produced some short, low-budget videos prior to 2013, but with the way videography and technology has changed recently, it's been a natural progression for us," said Jeff Smead, director of marketing for Island House Resort. "I work with two amazing filmmakers who understand and appreciate the message we send, and when we put our minds together, it's magic. We have a music video-style, as well as a more cinematic approach. The two styles work well together and really showcase the different perspectives in which you can take in the Island House experience."

Island House, about a 15-minute walk from the popular Key West gay bars, features 39 rooms and luxury apartments. Of course, there's a pool, two hot tubs, tanning areas, a newly-renovated fitness center, plus a sauna, steam room, play room and more. With a 24-hour restaurant and bar, some never even leave the property to experience Key West – or even wear clothes.

Island House predominantly attracts gay men ages 35 to 62. However, when I visited in late-December, I met a college student in his 20s and retirees in their 70s. There were twinks, bears, bear-chasers (or, Bear Bait, as one boasted proudly on his t-shirt), daddies, jocks, and more.

"To be honest, (the videos have) a snowball effect in terms of the reaction from guests," Smead said. "We started putting out more and more videos, basically providing a library of content that was all about us. Now, guests (often) say (things like), 'That last video was so touching' or 'I absolutely want to visit for Key West Pride next year after seeing the video you did!'

"So, what that tells me is, our guests are starting to expect our video content on a regular basis, the same way that happened with Andrew Christian. It's kind of amazing, I must say. But in terms of a trend in satisfaction of what we're actually filming, we're getting a super positive reaction to the fact that we don't utilize strictly 'muscle stud models.' More often than not, we use actual guests in our videos, or real Key West residents who are club members at the resort. All ages, all body types. If you want someone to watch your full video, and ultimately make a reservation, make sure what you're showing them is a real representation of what they are going to experience. If you have an attractive product, that will convey naturally through authenticity."

In 2013, Island House reached out to Andrew Christian, in hopes he would shoot a video at the resort. "At the time, Andrew Christian's social videos were really doing something new and brilliant, showcasing their products in an enticing way that wasn't simply focused on the garments," Smead said. "We shot three Andrew Christian videos on property that year with roughly 15 models, and the result was amazing and instant. Considering we know most every angle of the resort that guests feel is why they love it here, we knew we could create enticing branded content that was both realistic and relatable to the gay male market."

Fifty Shades of Gratitude - Island House Resort Key West from Island House Resort Key West on Vimeo.

Smead, 35, has now worked at Island House for eight years. His husband, James Braun, 41, is a former Chicagoan, having lived in the Windy City from 1995-2012. Braun is now a liquor sales representative for Breakthru Beverage and the Director of Mixology for the annual Stoli Key West Cocktail Challenge that culminates during Key West Pride.

Chicago is second only behind New York City for annual visitors to Island House, and Matt and Chris – featured on the year-end video – are Chicago residents

United Airlines has nonstop flights from Chicago O'Hare International Airport, so Island House is basically just a three-hour flight from Sidetrack in Boystown.

"Island House is the gold standard for an all-male gay resort," Smead said proudly. "This place is a community of its own, which has stood the test of time. Being the biggest all-male resort in Key West lets us play host to the entire gay community, as well as a home-away-from-home for our hotel guests. We've been in this business since the 1970s, so we know quite a bit about what our guests expect that makes them stay with us year after year. If you're looking to meet new friends in a safe, classy, yet unapologetically gay environment, this is the place for you.

"Island House wouldn't be what it is had it not been in Key West. This little island has allowed a gay resort like ours to flourish. We're not just accepted, we're embraced. So as a result, there's a comradery here that is easily felt amongst newcomers. You can sense that this isn't just a hotel option, it's a sanctuary that is designed and created for our community. Once you're here with feet on the ground, you just get it."

Island House has a casual, easy-going vibe – with relaxing palm trees surrounding the pool and a disco ball hanging over it. The two main Island House buildings are on the national registry of historic buildings, used in the past as both cigar factories and military bunkhouse style lodging.

"No day is the same as the next," at Island House, Smead said. "Every day is a changing profile of who's in town, who's in house, who's here for what event. Expect to be yourself, whatever that means, and know that you will be accepted into the resort as if you'd been here a million times before. No frills, no pomp and circumstance. Just good people, gorgeous environment, and a friendly, non-judgmental scene. Some guys come here to be frisky and mingle in a way not possible back home. Others come here to escape and be recluse. It's your choice – and no one's going to question you."

The busy season starts in mid-December and literally runs through mid-June. The busiest times to visit Island House are around Fantasy Fest, New Year's Eve, Key West Pride, and Bone Island Bare-It-All Weekend(s).

"The current ownership took over in 1999 and since then, over $3 million has been invested and re-invested into the property," Smead said. "We used to be a run-down motel complete with disco style shag carpeting. Now, we're the Starship Enterprise of gay resorts, and we've never seen bookings as strong as they are right now. It's quite encouraging that we're not just doing something right as a business, but we're doing something right when it comes to serving the needs of the gay community locally, and at large."

Braun, who grew up in suburban Chicago, lived on the North Side most of his adult life.

"(I) will always consider Chicago the best city in the world and (the) home city in my heart, but for the majority of the year, it's downright cold," he said. "Yes, there are many warm places in the world to visit, but Key West should be at the top of the list for Chicagoans because it's about as unique and authentic an experience as an island vacation gets. As a Midwesterner I think we seek fewer commercial experiences that allow us to find the coolness about a place, and Key West has that in spades. Anyone can jump on a cruise ship through the Caribbean, spend a boat load of money and never really get to see any of the places they visit. (Conversely), a trip to Key West offers music, history, watersports, arts, culture and best of all, the sense of a throw-back gay vacation that guys I grew up admiring used to take. In some ways it's a bit of a 5-star time capsule of gay culture complete with dancing boys and some killer dive bars full of locals loving each other and most of all where they live."

Island House delivers, always, living up to its billing. It's a clean, modern resort with a customer-first approach – whoever the customer is: old, young, fat, thin, feminine, butch, muscle queens, bears, twinks, etc.

Island House is a gay summer camp ...with poolside cocktail service and more.

Most Successful Video: "My favorite video is always the one that we just wrapped," he said, laughing. "I will say that the video we did called 'We're Back!' was one of our most successful in communicating a specific message. This was to show our guests that the resort and Key West was open for business and ready to welcome them back after Hurricane Irma. It's difficult to get the images of hurricane damage provided by the media out of the public conscience, so we figured the best way to show them that we're OK was to literally show them. Also, I'd say that the most recent end-of-year video "50 Shades of Gratitude" was one of our most successful with invoking emotions and memories that we all take with us after a vacation. Different people take with them very different memories of their time here, so it was heartwarming to receive hundreds of responses from guests saying, 'OMG, that video totally made me remember my favorite memories of being at Island House!' It was a highlight of my year reading all the reasons why guests were grateful for their memories here."

Island House Resort Contact Info:

USA & Canada: 1-800-890-6284

International: 1-305-294-6284

Email: Reservations@islandhousekeywest.com