In a competitive global market, resort designers are racing to define the “new luxury.” The modern concept of luxury is “really about elegance and simplicity,” said Richard Centolella, a principal in design firm EDSA, during a panel discussion at the ULI Fall Meeting. “The gold faucets and all that are a thing of the past.”
The session, titled “Resorts Reimagined: From Urban to Destination,” brought together architects and designers to focus on the strategies shaping the next generation of resorts. While the speakers offered a wide variety of ideas on hotel amenities and the rapidly changing target audience, themes emerged.
A significant shift is taking place in the demographics of the resort business, panelists agreed. Millennials are expected to pass baby boomers in travel spending in the next few years and become the largest buying group in the industry.
To attract millennials, free wi-fi is not going to cut it. They are looking for “authentic” experiences—an opportunity to meet locals, interact with the native culture, and experience a hotel connected to the history of the destination.
“You need a radical rethink of resorts,” said Rajesh Chandnani, vice president, strategy, for Wimberly Interiors.
Resorts must offer an immersive experience with amenities and activities that engage the adventurous young travelers, who might already be experienced trekkers. The typical snorkeling and horseback riding treks will not be enough to get their attention, speakers said.
“Soft adventure is so last year,” Chandnani said. The new creed is YOLO—you only live once—and travelers want extreme mountain biking, diving, and other dramatic experiences. And they want to explore and interact with nature.
“Cycling is the new golf,” he said.
New resorts—or rehabilitated older resorts—need to offer a personal, intimate experience focusing on sustainability and unique amenities appealing to a generation of travelers looking for healthy, inspiring holidays, panelists agreed. Several speakers spoke of “connectivity,” but not in a technology sense.
Travelers are “really seeking that local connection,” said Thomas Ventura, an architect with Gensler. “It’s really about this instinctive connection you have with nature.”
Glitz is also out. Speakers talked of rustic, organic resorts with a heavy emphasis on greenery and natural elements. Examples included a luxury resort set on a working farm and a hotel attached to a working winery.
“Today’s guests want to get their hands dirty,” said Scott Lee, president of SB Architects.
The new generation of travelers is “not into the one-size-fits-all experience,” Lee said. And it’s a mistake to try to focus on one demographic group.
“Is it all about millennials? I don’t think so,” Lee said. Baby boomers are still an active traveling group with the disposable wealth to travel in style. “They are redefining luxury in their own way,” Lee said.
The industry is getting too hung up on trying to cater to this new millennial traveler, said Eron Ashley, principal at Hart Howerton.
“It’s not about the demographic,” Ashley said. “It’s about psychographics and a value set.”
Developers and designers need to focus more on who the audience is—their interests and lifestyle—and not get caught up in the demographics, Ashley said.
While women have traditionally influenced family travel decisions, their interests have changed. Modern women grew up in the 1970s, played competitive sports, and are looking for a resort that offers a healthy lifestyle, Ashley said.
Parents are looking for a better family experience than the traditional resorts, which might have offered little more than a form of daycare to keep kids busy. Instead of “kids camps,” parents want learning experiences that allow the whole family to participate, from pizza making to oceanography expeditions.
“If kids are happy, parents are happy,” Lee said.
The trend of cross-over brands moving into hotels is sure to continue as hoteliers look to target a specific audience, the panelists said. Several panelists used the example of a resort developed by sports brand Quicksilver in Palm Desert, California, that will include wave pools for surfers.
While new resorts grab tourists, there is a real opportunity for older resorts to reinvent themselves, Ashley said. The modern travelers are much less interested in the stuffy five-star hotels of overstuffed leather chairs and suit-and-tie dinners.
“There are places that have all the ingredients for success but have gotten tired,” Ashley said.
But trying to predict the new trends can be foolhardy, speakers cautioned. A hotel plan might take eight years to reach fruition; the trends and hot amenities might have changed from the time of the initial plans.
“No way we can keep up,” Ashley said. It’s better to focus on long-term value, he said.