Incorporating the great outdoors indoors comes at a high cost — but ultimately with a high return on investment for hoteliers, and their guests.
It used to be that sleeping in a tent was the vacation of choice for cash-strapped families. But glamping is booming in popularity as hotels are catering to travelers, frustrated by two years of pandemic sequestering, who are eager to celebrate nature while logging off in log cabins and tents.
Hotel brands are investing heavily in design elements meant to bring the outdoors in, such as the Eastwind Hotel & Bar in the Catskills in upstate New York. The 26-room Eastwind has introduced what it refers to “almost-camping” with new all-season, insulated glamping cabins and new Lushna suites. The latter have their own decks and unobscured panoramic views of mountains and meadows.
Although visitors are staying at a resort, the new cabins offer guests a Thoreau-like experience where they can easily unplug from virtual responsibilities and distractions, say Eastwind founders Bjorn Boyer and Julija Stoliarova.
“By design, there are no TVs on the property to encourage guests to be present with their loved ones,” Stoliarova said. “Eastwind offers a distinct experience that is elevated and immersed in nature, allowing guests to disconnect from the outside world.”
The boundaries between the indoors and outdoors continue to blur as Nikki Fox, vice president of business development at ParkWest General Contractors, believes that companies will invest more in larger patios and balconies coming out of the pandemic. Interior designer Olga Hanono, whose studio specializes in luxury hotel builds and renovations, also concurs. She says her clients support green-thumb initiatives that place growing walls, plants, and gardens in as many public spaces and guest rooms as possible.
Those efforts are expensive. However, Rob Blood, founder and president of Lark Hotels, believes they’re absolutely worth it. “There’s no question that features like larger windows add onto construction costs and, ultimately, operating costs,” he said.
“But there’s been such an evolution in heating and cooling in the last 10 years that all of the costs are coming down because efficiency is higher. So there’s a balance and we can make better decisions about how we can enhance the guest experience but also drive revenue.”
He cited the expensive renovation of a former Lark property in Nantucket that included building seaside-facing balconies, which ended up enabling the hotel to charge $200 more a night. Furthermore, one of his boutique brand’s strategic initiatives is adding cabins to dot the grounds of properties like Field Guide in Stowe, Vermont. The under construction A-frame structures have floor-to-ceiling windows that back up to Cady Hill Forest, repeating a formula that’s worked with the addition of pine-grove cabins at Lark’s AWOL Kennebunkport property.
“Our driving principle when we do projects like these is big windows, minimal design — which really allows the natural setting to dictate how people feel when they’re here. The simplicity allows the surroundings to be the hero,” Blood said.
He anticipates an even greater uptick in Scandinavian design elements in hospitality in the next several years. “I think there are some elements that are lingering from the last two years of social isolation,” Blood said. “Being inside a lot is drawing us outside, while wanting the inside to be fresh and clean.”