Simple but memorable is the mantra of the Mediterranean’s resort designers, but consideration needs to be given not just to the hotel, but how the airport, region, destination and other external factors affect guests’ experiences, especially if the resort is remote.
VOULIAGMENI, Greece—Designing the perfect resort experience starts with considerations beyond the designers and hoteliers’ reach, according to sources.
These considerations include seasonality, the appeal of the resort’s destination and region, the transportation infrastructure and journey to the front door.
Such notions become more important due to resorts largely being located remotely and considered a different asset class to traditional hotels, sources added.
Speaking at the Mediterranean Resort & Hotel Real Estate Forum, during a panel titled “Designing a resort to deliver the right experience,” J.F. Garneau, VP of resort and branded developments at Propriétés & Co., said a resort experience begins in flight and at the airport.
Design considerations become heightened due to the price guests are paying for a luxury experience, he said.
“Then layer in all these experiential components everyone talks about, the great views and harnessing all the wonderful stories of the destination and region, those spiritual things,” Garneau said.
Jan Hazelton, VP of global business and real estate development at Kerzner International, said her firm has studied deeply the idea of storytelling and what stories hotels can tell guests.
Garneau added technology must aid that storytelling, not hinder it.
“A great brand and a great location—one will work off the other.” he said. “When I was a child, I could not sleep before a holiday, and this is not because of the bathrobe. It was because of the experience and the idea of discovery.”
“But we think differently between hardware and software when it comes to strategy. There is no point having good content but a bad experience. If that is the case, a stay there will be a one-off,” he added.
Christian Giraud, SVP of development, Europe at AccorHotels, said there is no perfect, universal resort concept.
“You have to work at it, and we have,” he said. “(AccorHotels has) 300 resorts worldwide, but our bread and butter is midscale urban hotels. Three years ago, you would not have invited me onto this particular panel, and I would not have come as I would not have had anything to say.”
Giraud said 40% of AccorHotels’ estate is resort hotels, with 50 assets in Europe, 70 in Africa and 150 in Africa.
“We want to do more,” he said. “We analyze the targeted customer for that location, and then you have to change your design a little, and then you have to think of your customer mix. Then local knowledge is needed, or you are dead, and then we discuss what we’ve discovered with that particular investor.”
Garneau added that brands must be careful with customization.
“Brands are getting more focused and specialized, but what is the DNA connection between owners and those brands? Be careful, or there could be a disconnect,” he said.
Keep it simple
Panelists said design should ease as well as accentuate the guest experience.
One case in point is room lighting.
“I love to see a button that says ‘all lights off.’ The trouble is design is created by geeks rather than tired business executives who have breakfast meetings at six the next morning,” Garneau said.
Giraud said he believed such fears are in the past as brands become more flexible about standards and talk more with investors.
Garneau said designers and investors put future-proofing a building firmly front of mind, and inspiration can come from outside of the industry.
“No doubt there’s a conference going on right now that is about experience in retail, and it all merges,” he said.
Giraud added AccorHotels has resorts used not only by guests, but also by locals, companies and sports teams.
“If the difference in user is becoming less and less clear to the customer, that’s good,” he said.
Kerzner’s Hazelton said hoteliers must not be scared to discontinue ideas and create new ones to keep everything interesting for the guest.
“But the secret sauce is in the brand,” she added.
Some panelists said brands need to keep fingers firmly on the pulse of design in a fast-changing world of travelers who desire the new and exciting. Others warned that the industry jargon “experience” might already be blasé, useful only as marketing material.
Propriétés & Co.’s Garneau said one project he was involved with included lifting up a Tuscan olive grove, building a hotel and then placing the olive grove back on top of it.
“That is the height of experience,” he said.
Hazelton said one of her latest One & Only Resorts properties is in a tea plantation in Rwanda, which immerses guests in the education of the beverage, to which Garneau asked her if she would do the same thing if she was to open in Canada with marijuana, newly legalized there.
Hazelton deftly skirted the issue.
“The difference is our guests (in Rwanda) will remember the experience,” she said.
Moderator Roger Allen, group CEO of resources at Leisure Assets, said he saw a pertinent issue in this light-hearted joshing.
“Hotels charge cleaning fines for those who smoke in their rooms, but I have heard with marijuana people are happy to pay the fine. It is now a revenue line, and it will evolve,” he said.