New normal

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

The Outdoor Experiential Movement

The Outdoor Experiential Movement

by David Klemt

Airstream Sport trailer in the woods

When we think of a hotel or resort, we tend to picture a traditional property with hundreds of rooms and suites.

However, the consumer craving for unique experiences is changing our collective perception of resorts as we know them.

While not an entirely new take on resorts, concepts that embrace the great outdoors and nature are gaining in popularity.

The Great Outdoors

Of course, we can attribute the development of new outdoor resort concepts to the pandemic. After all, the demand for outdoor experiences has exploded since Covid-19 brought the hospitality industry to its knees.

But the desire by humans to be one with nature isn’t new. Perhaps , though, health and wellness, #vanlife, festivals, and Instagram pages devoted to stunning outdoor photography have simply amplified many people’s drive to worry less about their chosen resort’s rooms and more about the surrounding landscape.

This interest in and demand for new takes on resorts and hotels speaks to several trends investigated during Hospitality Design Expo 2021. As we touched on last week, these key trends influencing hospitality design are sustainability, an interest in maximizing outdoor areas and experiences, and immersion in local culture.

Working with the Landscape

There are several ways to approach this type of concept.

For example, Ryan Miller, chief brand officer for AutoCamp, offered two big tips for designing for what he dubs the “outdoor experiential hospitality movement.” During HD Expo 2021 in Las Vegas, Miller said views should always receive priority. That tips ties directly into another big takeaway: designers can create memorable moments by working with grades.

Founded in 2013, AutoCamp boasts an exclusive contract with Airstream to design “suite trailers.” The brand’s approach focuses on immersion coupled with convenience and comfort. A clubhouse features luxury amenities, there’s an F&B program, meeting rooms are available, and guests have access to a general store.

The approach, says Miller, ensures the brand is able to capture guests who normally would eschew camping and outdoor experiences.

Kona Gray, principal at EDSA and a landscape architect with nearly three decades’ experience, says that “designing with nature matters.” Designers need to understand the value in the land on which a resort or hotel will sit. And no, Gray doesn’t mean the monetary real estate value.

That understanding will help designers to work with the land, not around it, and become stewards of the land. There’s an ROI, says Gray, from the outdoors that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Different Approaches

Hannah Collins, founder and principal designer at ROY Hospitality Design Studio, and Carlos Becil, chief experience officer at Getaway, represent two concepts with very different takes on the outdoor resort concept.

Collins and ROY designed Yonder Escalante, and other Yonder escapes are planned for the future. Like AutoCamp, Yonder utilizes Airstream trailers. However, the property also features modern cabins that stand out against their Airstream counterparts while complementing the landscape.

Additionally, Yonder also features a modern clubhouse. Guests are encouraged to socialize rather than isolate to enjoy the outdoors. There’s also a decidedly sexy vibe to Yonder, which features private bathhouses, outdoor (private) showers, and a massive hot tub in the pool area.

Getaway also features cabins. And, of course, the focus is on an immersive outdoor experience. However, that’s where the similarities between Getaway and Yonder end.

As the name implies—well, outright expresses, really—Getaway provides its guests with an escape. In fact, when exploring the website to reserve a cabin, there’s no “locations” tab. Instead, locations are found under the heading “Escape From.”

Properties are located about two hours from the nearest major city. There are no check-in desks at Getaway properties. Guests won’t interact with Getaway staff in person. Cabins are 50 to 150 feet away from one another. There really isn’t WiFi or high-speed cellular service at a Getaway location.

In other words, Getaway doesn’t encourage socializing. Instead, the brand values unplugging, immersing one’s self in nature, and recharging.

Give ‘Em What They Want

If guests want to experience more of the outdoors, meet that desire. Truly, it’s soon going to be an expectation.

That doesn’t hold true only for hotels and resorts—restaurants, bars, entertainment venues should take heed as well.

As sustainability, health and wellness, and a desire to convene with nature grow stronger among consumers, operators who provide unique outdoor experiences will thrive.

Don’t get stuck inside and left behind.

Image: Airstream Inc. on Unsplash

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

Meeting Expectations Through Hotel Design


Lit neon hotel sign with blue and purple background

During Hospitality Design Expo 2021, the show’s version of a live “Ask Me Anything” addressed meeting and exceeding new guest expectations.

On the design side, firms must meet the needs and visions of clients and brands. In turn, design clients are attempting to best meet their guests’ expectations in the short and long term.

Additionally, agencies are designing for the pandemic-driven new normal. The way guests use hotels and resorts has changed. Hotel and resort operators must adapt, and so must the designers with whom they work.

Gonzalo Bustamante, Executive Vice President, Design and Development, MGM Resorts International

Quick to point out that he comes from the design world rather than the hotel world, Bustamante is proud of how fast MGM embraced the pivot.

The company adapted to meet the needs of guests while also doing what’s necessary for the bottom line.

Bustamante feels we’re all living and working “in the new version of reality.” Therefore, moving forward, MGM properties will feature design based on the new normal.

When collaborating with designers, Bustamante looks for storytellers who can listen and stay on budget.

Kristen Conry, Senior Vice President, Global Design, US & Canada, Marriott International

What was once a guest desire, says Conry, is now an expectation.

For instance, guests expect hotels and resorts to build and operate sustainably; offer health and wellness features; and provide access to outdoor spaces.

Conry is curious about two specific elements of hotel and resort design.

One, she has an interest in how all-inclusive stays and properties will perform and progress.

Two, Conry wonders if hotel groups shrinking their carbon footprints will encourage guests to make more repeat visits. If a guest is motivated to support a particular brand because of their commitment to “green” operations, the hope is that they won’t cut back on hotel stays to shrink their own footprint.

Conry is encouraged by the increase in conversations designers and their clients are having about utilizing indoor-outdoor and outdoor spaces.

Gary Dollens, Global Head, Design / Product and Brand Development, Hyatt

Leisure travelers are returning to hotels, meaning they’re more important now to the bottom line, per Dollens.

However, there are two other developments that seem to have really caught Dollens’ attention.

One is hotel and resort properties operating with smaller teams. The second is that margins are “better than they’ve ever been.”

If groups can operate with smaller teams without impacting the guest experience negatively, why would they return to working with larger teams? Operators, encouraged by improved margins, are now used to new changes and are unlikely to go back to pre-pandemic operations.

For example, Dollens stated that Hyatt’s current RevPAR (revenue per available room) is up 19 percent compared to 2019. The company also acquired all-inclusive luxury brand Apple Leisure Group for $2.7 billion this year.

Helen Jorgensen, Vice President, Design and Procurement, Host Hotels & Resorts

Jorgensen and Host, like so many companies, adapted to working remotely.

Of course, teams used to gather to discuss design projects. Now, they gather digitally to review virtual room models.

However, it seems she’s eager to return to working in person. After all, while we’ve definitely made leaps and bounds in terms of technology, nothing beats experiencing a hotel room physically. There’s no better way—at the moment—to gauge the guest experience than actually touching and seeing everything in person.

Host and Jorgensen, like MGM and Bustamante, have been moving quickly. She expects Host to complete 16 major property renovations by 2023.

Part of those renovations has to do with room size and amenities. For instance, Jorgensen says suites will account for 19 percent of property rooms. That’s more than double current Host inventory, which is eight percent.

In terms of other design trends, Jorgensen expects sustainability to become more important to more guests. Certainly, that’s related to another trend Jorgensen identifies as crucial moving forward: wellness.

Larry Traxler, Senior Vice President, Global Design, Hilton

All-inclusive experiences are the future for hotels and resorts, per Traxler. Given the increased stress guests are experiencing on a daily basis due in large part to the pandemic, this makes sense.

Guests want to show up and know that everything is handled—eliminating friction is a luxury.

Speaking of which, luxury and lifestyle categories are performing very well for Hilton. However, extended stay is the current category leader for the brand.

When it comes to design challenges, Traxler and Hilton are focusing on a few crucial elements: F&B, outdoor experiences, and air quality.

During this session, Traxler said that F&B must evolve. Destination restaurants on property are performing well for Hilton.

That speaks to another crucial element Traxler mentioned: avoiding cookie-cutter design and experiences. Guests want unique experiences, and that extends to all markets. In fact, many guests want access to more outdoor areas, from balconies and pool areas to lawns and restaurants.

And while it may seem counterintuitive, Traxler says that hotels and resorts can improve property air quality without a “massive outlay” of money. In fact, Traxler says there’s no better time than now to build hotels, with Hilton projecting five-percent growth but achieving seven percent.


When it comes to hotels, resorts, and design, there are a few key factors operators should focus on now and for the future:

  • Luxury, extended stay, and all-inclusive categories are performing well.
  • The leisure traveler is returning.
  • Food & Beverage offerings must evolve.
  • The use of outdoor spaces is now integral to design.
  • Sustainability, health, and wellness are important to a growing percentage of guests. This includes air quality.
  • Smaller teams may shift from trend to standard operating procedure.
  • The time to build is now.

Image: Ph B on Unsplash