Expectations for the guest experience at resorts have been evolving since the 1960s, and for the past two decades, resorts have been in an amenities race with the goal of providing everything a guest could possibly want in a self-contained resort experience. But the modern guest is increasingly seeking the opportunity to customize their stay to their own unique tastes and preferences — often well outside the bounds of the resort. They want an authentic experience that offers a true sense of place.
As architects and designers of resort experiences around the world, OZ Architecture has seen and supported this evolution of the guest experience firsthand. Here’s a look at four key design opportunities we’re seeing for existing resorts to up the ante and provide an unforgettable experience for the modern guest.
What is a Guest Amenity?
When it comes to amenities, for the past 20-plus years, operators have looked within the bounds of their own resort, or perhaps slightly beyond, to a limited list of excursions. As a result of this more insular approach to placemaking, guests started to miss the more historic, traditional resort experience and seek out a sense of local culture and place. As a result, we’re seeing a strong trend toward curated excursions to nearby amenities — and not just for the typical locales. Think guided day hikes, first-track skiing experiences with the hotel manager, vineyard tours, fly-fishing guides, hot-air balloon rides, local festival passes, kayaking at a nearby lake, raft trips, shuttles to nearby shopping — anything that gives the guest a true sense of the ‘locals’ experience.
For example, when developing The Canyons masterplan, the team re-positioned the resort to be ‘a portal to the Utah experience.’ The property is near the famed Park City, allowing guests of The Canyons to easily go into town for dinner or shopping. Fantastic local skiing can be accessed directly from the property, and with its proximity to the Jordanelle Reservoir, the resort is primed to offer guests kayaking or fishing excursions. Rather than trying to build everything into the resort, The Canyons embraced its location and strives to provide guests with the perfect base to explore everything the area has to offer.
Curated F&B Experiences
Offering truly great food in the average resort has been somewhat of a challenge over the years. Because of the seasonal nature of some resorts (i.e., ski resorts) it’s been difficult for restaurants to survive with off-season swings in occupancy. This is changing and we’re now seeing intentionally curated F&B programs that provide greater variety for guests, drawing from the local area for inspiration. While not all of the concepts may be open at once, the strategy provides a stronger draw for guests year-round.
When we worked with Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort in Florida, many of the restaurants were run by a single operating group. It had an oyster house, a piano bar and an outdoor crabshack. Guests could choose their experience for the night — and try all of them throughout their stay. The restaurant owner had the ability to close down venues during a slow season on different days, so staff was always busy and guests always had at least an option. In Keystone, Colo., this same concept is occurring. One group owns several of the F&B venues, with each providing a unique experience for guests. In Whitefish, Mont., we are working on several properties for the same owner. One will have a less formal market concept for guests on the move, one has a lively lakeside tiki bar and a family-friendly and fine-dining restaurant, and the last has fresh local fare — all sourced from Montana.
As resorts that were constructed in the 1960s and 1970s begin to think about refreshing their existing buildings, they’re paying a lot of attention to the architectural character that makes that resort special (or sometimes changing the character to make that resort feel more of-the-place).
Many local planning departments are now putting guidelines in place that are meant to encourage architects to think about the local vernacular as changes to existing resorts are made, thus eventually helping to strengthen the brand of that resort or community.
Vail, Co. for example, has many condominium properties and hotels that are planning updates to modernize materials, efficiencies and even programming. The Town of Vail has thoughtfully written guidelines for Vail Village and Lionshead to ensure that the Vail identity is not lost. All changes to buildings go through a design review board for approval. This board is comprised of locals who understand the area’s unique sense of place and are passionate about preserving what is special about Vail.
The Wellness Wave
Finally, when it comes to programming, right now wellness-focused amenities are a high priority. From choose-your-own adventure spa complexes that allow guests to curate their own experience, to indoor-outdoor experiences and nature-focused wellness excursions, there is seemingly an endless appetite for supporting the mental and physical wellbeing of guests. Aspen is soon to welcome a new and improved Aspen Club into the community, which will create a world-class wellness destination with a limited number of luxury rooms, and exceptional service and amenities.
Whether existing resorts incorporate one or all of the trends above, the main takeaway is the importance of consistently looking to embrace and enhance what makes each resort experience unique – a sense of place, brand identity and architectural character. Sharing those special identifiers with guests in meaningful ways is where we find the most inspiration for enhancing guest experience.
By Rebecca Stone – Rebecca Stone is the managing principal at Denver, Co.-based OZ Architecture