A Traveler’s First Resort
With creativity and a keen design sense, even the largest resort hotels
can deliver the authentic boutique-style experience that guests crave.
By Becky Stone
Snowmass Village in Colorado has a lot going for it — world-class skiing and scenery, the glitz of neighboring Aspen and a welcoming local community ready to roll out the amenities for visitors. But what the 50-year-old resort lacked until recently were spaces that brought people together to make authentic connections with their natural surroundings, the community and fellow travelers.
Within months of opening in December 2018, the Limelight Snowmass Hotel filled that longstanding void. With indoor and outdoor spaces that melt seamlessly into an adjacent public plaza that invites gathering for ice skating, live music, open-air markets, rock climbing (on the hotel’s own plaza-facing five-story climbing wall) and the après-activity wind-down scene, the 99-room property has quickly become known as Snowmass Village’s “living room.” It’s a place that appeals to Snowmass visitors and locals alike — exactly the type of environment that today’s resort hotel guests crave for the genuine connections, authentic experiences and unique sense of place it creates.
Those cravings apply whether a resort hotel sits at the base of a ski mountain or in a city center. And the largest resort hotels, not just boutique properties like the Limelight Snowmass, have what it takes to satisfy them. Here’s a look at some of the approaches that are working best for resort hotels on the road to reinventing the guest experience.
Offer activities that connect guests with locals. Hotels are ideally positioned to connect their guests with the unique people and experiences within the communities in which they operate. By doing so, they not only create additional value for their guests via an elevated concierge-type experience, they also forge stronger relationships with local businesses and service providers — relationships they can leverage in all sorts of ways. The possibilities are endless, but could include:
• Beer, wine or spirits tastings with a local maker.
• Art classes with a local expert. How about spending a morning in the glassblower’s shop making an ornament for the Christmas tree?
• A resort-hosted art & artisan’s or farmer’s market.
• Visit the bee-keeper and let guests gather honey. Denver’s iconic Brown Palace Hotel maintains beehives on its roof.
Curate experiences for a wide range of tastes. Every hotel property has relationships and/or in-house assets they can leverage to create unique experiences for their guests. For example:
• First tracks with the general manager of the ski resort or a local ski legend.
• A cooking class with the hotel restaurant’s head chef.
• A neighborhood or city tour, on foot or by bike/scooter/Segway, led by one of the hotel’s in-the-know guides.
• For dog-friendly properties, a guest-and-their-dog hike or city walk led by a hotel guide.
Offer experiences to foster guest camaraderie and build a sense of resort community. Resort hotels open up all sorts of possibilities for themselves and their guests when they act as communities unto themselves. Those possibilities could include:
• Movie night on the lawn or at some other comfortable central gathering space on the property, to encourage guests to get out of their rooms and socialize.
• Happy hour with free snacks and beverages, another opportunity for guests to mix and mingle.
• Kids Club experiences, where the younger set can get away — and free their parents in the process — for games, movies, arts & crafts, etc.
Fulfilling guests’ wellness and fitness drives. Today’s outstanding resort hotels emphasize the well-being of their guests. So instead of filling some dank corner of the hotel with rickety equipment and calling it a fitness “center,” they might offer:
• Yoga classes, personal training and/or TRX, HIIT and other types of workouts with local instructors.
• Hosted wellness retreats, with yoga, personal training, spa treatments and healthy part of the package.
• A full-service spa, with massage, steam, sauna, yoga, fitness, physical therapy and more.
Outsource experiences with local outfitter partners. Guests often aren’t aware of the off-resort opportunities available to them. Here the host property can be the conduit for those opportunities and deliver an elevated concierge experience in the process by:
• Aligning with local outfitters for a fly-fishing excursion, city fat tire bike tour, sunset boat ride, etc.
• Offering guests the chance to learn about and select locally grown, fresh-to-table food, because varying guests’ culinary experience can be a powerful differentiator for a resort.
Design the space for experiences. Specific design approaches and elements also help to bring the resort hotel experience to life. Generic, cookie-cutter guest rooms and sterile, largely windowless meeting and event spaces are out. Here’s what’s in:
• Guest housing of varying sizes and designs — cabins, villas, casitas, even “under-canvas” tents or yurts in the right setting. Guests don’t mind a short walk to their accommodations when they’re going “home” to a place with unique furnishings, more privacy and their own porch, patio, balcony or yard.
• Common buildings to gather in. A lobby can become an open, inviting space for guests to gather, with coffee/espresso service, community tables, board games and other “living room” features to socialize — or to be “alone together” in a quiet nook.
• Meeting rooms where guests can conduct business — smaller, boardroom-size spaces with plenty of natural light and good AV equipment.
• Smaller, discrete spaces for experiential amenities, like a lap pool in one area and a hot springs-like soaking pool in another, all within a walkable distance from lodging.
• Architecture that takes cues from its setting, incorporating natural materials and local building styles.
By combining these kinds of thoughtful, non-generic design elements with unique experiences — and borrowing a few pages from the boutique hotel playbook in the process — resort properties can step into the elevated role that today’s guests expect them to fill, that of “pillars in their community, connecting guests, whether from abroad or locally, to the true character of the destination,” explains a 2018 study on luxury travel trends commissioned by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. “Luxury travelers view the role of a hotel beyond curating authentic local experiences. It is the combination of destination expertise and recreating the comforts of home that creates this trusted relationship and positions the most desirable hotels in the world at the very heart of the travel experience.”
Becky Stone is the managing partner at OZ Architecture in Denver, Colo., where she works primarily with hospitality and resort clients, as well as on multi-family and mixed-use projects. She’s active in the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Recreation Development Councils both nationally and locally in Colorado, and also serves on the ULI Global Awards of Excellence jury. She can be reached at email@example.com.