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Luxury Hotels Prioritize Outdoor Activities, Memorable Experiences For Travelers

When it comes to the hotel and resort industry, luxury is taking on a different meaning.

A strong economy combined with the desire to engage in outdoor experiences is leading residents to seek vacations in amenity-rich markets that offer the allure of an active lifestyle.

Luxury Hotels Prioritize Outdoor Activities, Memorable Experiences For Travelers

“We are seeing a shift across a number of segments in the lodging sector to having more of a focus on experiences,” JLL Global Head of Research, Hotels & Hospitality Lauro Ferroni said. 

Luxury hotels were once known for their ornately decorated lobbies/rooms and vast amenities, including pools, on-site spa services, bellmen and luggage lifts. Today that standard has evolved. 

In addition to the above features and services, hotels that dabble in the extravagant in hopes of appealing to wealthy travelers must provide a more well-rounded stay for visitors that includes memorable experiences as well as desirable facilities.

Luxury Hotels Prioritize Outdoor Activities, Memorable Experiences For Travelers

“Luxury properties are creating new products, services and activities that provide an exhilarating experience that goes beyond relaxing at the pool,” Ferroni said. “Think guided all-terrain vehicle tour followed by an upscale lunch cooked by a private chef in a cabin owned by the resort, for example.”

How Boston Paved The Way For Luxury Lodging 

Upon the founding of hotels centuries ago, they were designed with the simple purpose of providing accommodations to weary travelers.

Though New York was one of the first major cities to establish a hotel in its market, Boston led the way in luxury lodging by offering the first deluxe hotel in the U.S. The Tremont House, as it was called, was a community staple that opened in 1829 and boasted indoor plumbing, locks on doors, bellboys and free soap, all of which were rich amenities at the time. 

The Tremont House was the epitome of extravagance during the mid-1800s, so much so that renowned Victorian-era novelist Charles Dickens paid a visit to the establishment. Dickens later mentioned the visit in his book “American Notes for General Circulation” published in October 1842. He wrote that the  property had “more galleries, colonnades, piazzas and passages than I can remember, or the reader would believe.”

More importantly, Boston’s Tremont House has been credited for paving the way for luxury hotel standards that continue to evolve today. 

Active Lifestyles Drive Hotel Innovation

Luxury Hotels Prioritize Outdoor Activities, Memorable Experiences For Travelers

Relaxation remains at the forefront of vacationing, but the draw to engage in recreational activities is becoming a focus for many Americans, and that focus is filtering through to the hotel industry.

According to research conducted by the American Recreation Coalition, more than 23 million Americans participated in winter activities such as skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing last winter. That same number of Americans also contributed to an estimated $5B spent on winter sporting equipment and rentals.

A growing number are also choosing activities like camping or "glamping," the luxury version of the outdoor activity. KOA, the largest private campground system in the country, reported an increase in activity of 4.5% over the last year. That number is expected to rise with an estimated 46% of people surveyed saying they intend to spend more time camping in the years to come.

This increase in outdoor enthusiasm and activity is one of the reasons luxury residential and commercial real estate brokerage Hilton & Hyland is increasingly marketing luxury resorts. Most recently, the brokerage has signed on to list luxury resort Chileno Bay Resort & Residences in Los Cabos on its site. 

“Los Cabos is [desirable because of its] ease of access and a variety of activities from golf to sport water fishing,” Hilton & Hyland Executive Vice President of Marketing & Strategic Development Charles Black said.

Hyatt Hotels Corp. is setting its sights on the acquisition of fitness and spa brands in order to accommodate the mounting focus on health and fitness in everyday life. Its most recent acquisitions include the Exhale Spa and Miraval Spa brands. 

“Travelers want to have a more active lifestyle. In the cities they live in, they belong to a boutique fitness club, and they are seeking a similarly unique and active vacation,” Ferroni said. 

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According to Forbes, 78% of millennials say they would splurge on experiences over “things,” but this generation may also be influential for another reason.

“There is also a lot of talk in the industry about millennials being a big part of the driving force for these experiences. And in the luxury sector, this can fit aptly with multigenerational trips, where experiences are offered for the different age groups,” Ferroni said.

The Full Package 

Though guests demand more overall experiences during their travels, hoteliers have not had to make a lot of upgrades on their properties to accommodate these activities. Rather, they have found innovative ways to utilize their surroundings. 

Laucala Island Resort in Fiji offers guests the option of taking a 30-minute submarine ride, which dives 60 feet into the Fijian waters to check out the coral and marine life around the area. Similarly, the Sonora Resort in British Columbia, Canada, which has multiple swimming pools, a high-end spa and a movie theater, also whisks guests away on a truly Instagram-worthy excursion by helicopter to spend a day on a glacier.

“In many cases, the destinations already offer a slew of adventurous activities but the market is seeing more examples of luxury resorts directly arranging the experiences and branding them as one of their own,” Ferroni said.