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Ah, The Good Life!

Ah, The Good Life!

Custom resort properties are emphasizing comfort and security, while giving vacationers more luxury and greater choice in accommodations.

By By Larry Flynn, Senior Editor | August 11, 2010
This article first appeared in the 200409 issue of BD+C.

A confluence of psychographics (values and beliefs), demographics (age and income), and economics (price and value) is driving resort design, says Howard J. Wolff, SVP of hospitality specialist Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo, Seattle.

According to Wolff, today's travelers are looking for three things: a connection with people and places; physical and psychological comfort; and greater choice of guest rooms and amenities. Owners, operators, and developers who understand the public's changing demands stand the best chance of capturing the lion's share of business, Wolff says.

Successful resorts are combining a myriad of concepts and amenities into resort design, giving guests settings for almost cloistered privacy as well as active social gathering places that accommodate working and family vacations, and spaces that provide a mixture of housing types and accommodations.

Today's resort guests want the feeling of comfort and security they left at home. In fact, home, comfort, and security are paramount concepts in current hospitality design, says Wolff.

Guest rooms and bathrooms are ballooning in size as people cocoon themselves into an insulated, private world. In the luxury market, bathrooms are approaching 50% of the square footage of guest rooms. Owners are providing more luxurious amenities and technology for guests, who are spending more time in their rooms.

The trend is toward fewer but higher quality finishes, furniture, and fittings in guest rooms and bathrooms. Bathrooms are more highly articulated, with light-filled, in-room spas becoming practically universal.

To enhance security in guest rooms, resorts are using biometric sensors linked to access control software to record all comings and goings, restrict access to certain areas, and facilitate the guest checkout process. Resorts are also spending more on security equipment and staff.

Guests want a residential feel to their rooms, but one mixed with the latest high-tech gadgets. Business travelers are also hooking up their computers to big-screen TVs.

While the cost efficiency of providing free WiFi access for guests and its effect on room rates are still uncertain, Wolff says that wireless systems such as thermostats can save developers money because they are easier and cheaper to install. Wireless motion sensors, which detect whether guest rooms are occupied, reduce energy consumption without sacrificing comfort.

Staying connected

The availability of electronic technology is making it easier for travelers to take working vacations. "Employees and executives feel like they have to stay in touch, even when on holiday," says Wolff. In a recent survey of 5,000 executives, four out of five confessed they end up working during their vacations.

The reverse also is true. Roughly two out of five business travelers include an overnight weekend stay and time for leisure when they are traveling for business. "We see this trend manifesting itself into additional meeting and conference facilities at resorts and the addition of resort amenities at business hotels," says Wolff.

Family resort vacations are also on the rise, leading to greater amenities for children and teenagers, who often wield veto power over vacation choices. For children, the emphasis is on interactive "experiential" programs. Hotel spending on swimming pools is at double-digit rates, says Wolff, with the "mega pool" helping to transform hotels into resort destinations for families. To accommodate the whole family, more connecting rooms are being designed into resorts. At luxury properties, the trend is toward two-bedroom villas, Wolff says.

Time to play

While privacy is important to guests, they also want to interact with others — one reason why Internet kiosks are provided in lobbies, not just in rooms. Lobbies are being outfitted as casual living rooms. At night, pools are being transformed into al fresco nightclubs. "The numbers demonstrate that people are leaving their rooms, even when they don't have to," says Wolff. "They are using gyms, dining, going to movies, theaters, and clubs on the property."

To meet the need for community, resorts are turning to the village concept popular with retail malls and mixed-use developments, wherein the resort takes on the appearance of a small town.

At the 21-acre Ritz Carlton Lake Las Vegas, on the northern outskirts of the gaming mecca, the developers and designers WATG and GC Perini, Framingham, Mass., created an urban-style resort with a retail village. The Mediterranean-style lakeside resort features a casino, office space, luxury condominiums, shopping, restaurants, and pedestrian promenades.

Las Vegas became even more fabulous last year with the opening of the Ritz Carlton Lake Las Vegas resort, which like the Village at Mammoth ski resort in Mammoth, Calif., incorporates a village theme.

In Mammoth Lakes, Calif., the newly opened 75,000-sf Village at Mammoth was designed as a new social center for the mountain ski resort and the town's 7,000 residents. The project includes a mix of vacation and ownership properties, a retail and entertainment village, a high-speed gondola, a social center, and public gathering spaces. The Building Team was comprised of owner/developer Intrawest Corp., Vancouver, B.C.; Seattle's Callison Architecture; and Salt Lake City general contractor UPA Group.

Standing out in a crowd

While design is important for virtually all building types, it is a crucial differentiator for resort properties. "It's the architect's objective to be both timeless and timely," says Wolff. Having an environment that reflects its locale can give a resort a distinct advantage.

Instead of theme designs in the realm of the fantastic, David Sargert, president of Sargert Design Associates, Springfield, Mass., says his firm focuses on "enduring realistic themes."

"If you impose a theme, it can date the resort within a decade or two," he says. Sargert's design approach is about being "timeless but new."

The firm's design for the El Monte Sagrado, a recently opened five-star luxury resort in Taos, N.M., pays homage to human spirituality, with special reference to local tribal religions.

Thus, in place of injection-molded plastics, the Building Team selected natural materials such as local sandstone, granite, and marble. Mica walls, wood, and plaster were used. This is part of a larger trend of owners and developers specifying more sustainable materials and spending "slightly" more for them, says Sargert. WATG's Wolff says the guests will spend an of average 6–8% more for services offered by "environmentally responsible suppliers."

Delivering enduring functionality in resort projects is the charge for design and construction firms, says Wolff. Property owners are taking a long-term view of their investments. At the same time, guests follow short-term lifestyle trends. Thus, design needs to be limber and relevant.

The trick is to be able to create resorts that are functional, limber, and relevant all at once.

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