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Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Hot Springs Movement in the United States Gains Steam

The ancient Greeks did it. So did the ancient and not-so-ancient Romans, Japanese, and Chinese. Heck, even some of the founding fathers of the United States did it too. But despite its illustrious past, the idea of taking the waters has never really caught on in the United States, until now. Hot springs could be on the verge of a major wellness moment.


For centuries, many European and Asian cultures have viewed mineral-fed hot springs as a source of health, wellness, and healing. But according to the Global Wellness Institute, the sector is quite underdeveloped in North America, due to a lack of a historic bathing culture that is prevalent elsewhere. The times are changing, however, as more Americans are looking to nature for its power to calm and rejuvenate, especially in these COVID times.

 In the United States, hot springs are seen in recreational terms rather than as a wellness endeavor, according to Vicky Nash, a tourism consultant who is dedicated to professionalizing the hot springs industry. Thanks to the efforts of Nash and a former U.S. senator, among others, hot springs are suddenly being reframed as wellness destinations across the country.




MOM-AND-POP OPERATIONS IN TRANSITION

According to Nash, about 28 states have hot springs in one form or another, although the majority are in the West and Southwest. Many of these waters are on public land, and a few are contained within fancy resort complexes. But for the most part, hot springs facilities are rustic mom-and-pop operations, solely offering a soak in the forms of mineral bathing and swimming. Some are a little more tricked-out, with extras like massage rooms and dining outlets.

Many of these smaller operations, long in need of a facelift, are in the process of changing hands. According to Nash, “A lot of the smaller hot springs facilities were established in the 1970s. Now those owners are selling, and new owners, including investment groups, are coming in with an interest of revamping them and getting them up to speed” for the growing wellness market.

That’s why many facilities, shuttered for years, are reopening, some with multimillion dollar investments. For example, a Phoenix-based couple, Mike and Cindy Watts, purchased the ailing Arizona Castle Hot Springs in 2014. The original facility was built at the end of the 19th century, but it was abandoned during the 1970s. Earlier this year, it reopened as a luxury healing center for the well-heeled. Some of the bungalows, complete with private outdoor tubs, list at $1,600 per night.

Mark Begich is another person betting on the business. The Alaskan businessman purchased Carson Hot Springs in the late 1990s. His company refurbished the property’s historic buildings, located just a few miles from Nevada’s state capitol. Also added were a restaurant and brewpub, making the facility more of a destination versus a pass-through. He, along with a group of investors, also owns Jemez Hot Springs and CaƱon Del Rio Inn and Spa in Jemez Springs, New Mexico.

BUILDING A NETWORK

Begich, by the by, is not just your run-of-the-mill developer. He heads up Northern Compass Group, a business and strategic communications consultancy. And he happens to be a former U.S. senator (D-Alaska). After leaving the swamp in 2014, he jumped back into the hot springs arena. First, he purchased those New Mexico properties and now, he’s become the force behind the development of the brand-new (as of October 2019) Hot Springs Association.

Begich pointed out, “In rural areas, local-level mom-and-pop businesses are critical to the economy. In remote areas, developing these facilities brings in money from outside the community and creates jobs.” But for the most part, they have been left to their own devices  By creating an association, individual operators will experience strength in numbers.

“There are so many layers of the business, but no one is coordinating information,” said Begich. Having an association to bring together hot springs operators across the United States “means these small businesses can pool resources, joining together to have purchasing and marketing power.”

Schawna Thoma is vice president of Begich’s Northern Compass Group. “Most hot springs are family-run, and people often feel isolated or intimidated about reaching out. We will serve as a network for these people, and offer tools and serve as an information resource.” The organization will allow small properties to band together to build awareness, while also doing less sexy things, like helping to negotiate water rights, share new technology, and develop affordable insurance programs. It will also start tracking visitor numbers and economic impact.

LAYING THE GROUNDWORK FOR GROWTH

The latter, said Begich, will be of immense help to operators seeking loans. “Right now, hot springs are difficult to finance,” according to Begich, “because the classification is difficult. That’s why the data is critical; it’s for financiers to understand the business.” That understanding may lead to a simpler lending process.

Vicky Nash is another person bringing together resources for the hot springs community. She helped develop the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop, which links five hot springs destinations in the western part of the state. During its five years in existence, each of the five communities has experienced an increase in tourism.She also launched the Hot Springs Connection in 2019. It was the first conference in the United States dedicated solely to the needs of hot springs operators. 

Now that the industry has its own trade association, its own annual conference, and, to a certain degree, a new generation of owners, hot springs are destined to become the next hot thing in wellness tourism.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Good Vibrations: Sound Healing Makes Waves in the Wellness Industry

   If you have been noticing more spas offering treatments that incorporate Tibetan singing bowls, tuning forks, or gongs, you aren’t alone. Sound therapies are starting to make waves in the spa industry.


In the ultra-competitive world of luxury wellness travel, companies need to do more than just offer gorgeous views, great-tasting food, and aromatic gardens. They need to think about sound too.

Increasingly, properties including Hyatt’s Miraval Arizona are employing sound therapy to pull in wellness-oriented customers. The idea is that people’s ears offer a path to relaxation and healing every bit as powerful as eyeballs, nostrils, and fingertips. And companies are citing ancient wisdom known to groups as disparate as Australia’s aborigines (think didgeridoos), Tibetan monks (think singing bowls), and Native Americans (flutes, drums, and rains sticks) as part of healing practices.

“Sound can signal the body to release its own tension and negativity, dropping the brainwave into a meditative state quickly and effectively,” said Pamela Lancaster, a widely regarded guru in the field and “master healer” at Miraval Arizona.

What Miraval Arizona and others are realizing is that sound is a powerful tool in reducing clients’ stress levels, improving their moods, and alleviating pain. And given the hectic, anxiety-ridden world of 2020, more and more travelers are seeking out such restorative treatments.




WHAT’S IN A SOUND?

Proponents of sound therapy call it “vibrational medicine,” arguing that certain systems in our bodies vibrate at different frequencies. If these frequencies get disrupted by ailments like emotional distress or illness, our well-being could be affected.

While efforts to heal through sound therapy is as old as ancient Egypt, scientists have only recently begun to explore its efficacy. The wellness community, however, has been providing sound therapies for more than a decade, with some treatments growing more and more into standard offers.

The offerings include massages that are synchronized to music, listening to the peaceful sounds of “deep nature” and taking in the beauty of Tibetan singing bowl sessions. Tuning forks of varying pitches are thought by some to be a way to “unblock” people’s “stagnant energy,” And so-called “sound baths” — an ancient form of deep meditation — create relaxing, repetitive sounds using musical bowls, cymbals, and gongs.

“An immersion in sound frequency cleanses the soul,” said Robert Lee, a leader at  Eaton DC, a hotel and wellness center in Washington, D.C. “It allows for a recalibration to a deep stillness that we can all access within ourselves.”

In fact, sound can be used to create a sense of stillness that people crave, he added. “While trying to quiet the mind in a quiet room is nearly impossible, sound actually makes meditating easier.”

WHERE SOUND AND TRAVEL OVERLAP

At Miraval Arizona, Lancaster has seen firsthand how much sound can help visitors leave behind their stresses and negativity and settle into a meditative state. The resort offers Vasudhara, a water treatment combining Thai massages with pulsating sounds emanating from underwater speakers. “The body brings itself back into a place of homeostasis,” Lancaster said, about the treatment. “And things have a propensity to begin to heal.”


Vasudhara at Miraval Arizona


Michelle Pirret, a “sonic alchemist” at the Four Seasons New York Downtown, suggested this type of therapy is powerful because the human body is comprised mostly of water. “When frequency is played on the body, cellular water is vibrating,” she said. “This escalates hormonal release and relaxation.”

The Lodge at Woodloch in northeastern Pennsylvania offers a vibrational treatment that uses the sound waves of singing bowls to create a relaxed, meditative state. Its “Gong with the Wind” selection combines yoga and meditation with holistic sound immersion. The acoustics come courtesy of conch shells, bronze gongs, and singing bowls.

Sound Healing Instruments
at The Lodge at Woodloch

Primordial sound meditation is also on the menu at the Chopra Center for Well-Being in California. Guests receive personal mantras, specific sounds or vibrations that help them achieve quieter, more peaceful states of mind.

In Wisconsin, Kohler Waters Spa at The American Club has wet treatment rooms featuring VibraAcoustic bath technology. There, a big bathtub is tricked out with transducers that send vibrations through the water and aimed at opening up lymphatic pathways, said Nikki Miller, director of Kohler Waters Spas.

For companies looking to add sound therapy to their offerings, here is one piece of counterintuitive advice. Rather than just focusing on the noise, resort operators also need to focus on designing spaces for, well, blissful silence. “Creating a soundproof space significantly enhances the effectiveness of the experience,” Lee, of Eaton in Washington, D.C., explained.

“Silence,” he added, “must be given the honor it deserves.”

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

How to Be a Better Digital Moderator

 When blogging tools became available on the Internet in the 1990s, everybody “became” a writer. When smart phones with cameras became ubiquitous during the first decade of this century, everybody “became” a photographer. As we know from the subsequent explosion of bad blogs and blurred images, just because technology exists doesn’t mean everyone has the skill set to employ it effectively.


Next in our tale, we zoom to 2020, the year of Zoom and GoToMeetings and other online conference platforms. Today, everybody is “becoming” a presenter. But despite how easy Anderson Cooper may make it seem, being an anchor and an interviewer is no easy feat. The ability to conduct a discussion among a group of panelists and to ask key follow-up questions, all the while keeping the program engaging, is a skill that needs to be honed. 


Having worked in the television industry for many years, first as a producer for CNN, next as a contributor to various TV news and chat shows, and now as a media trainer as well, I have discovered many of the keys to on-air success. The majority of these translate directly to the digital world, with a few technical tweaks.


Now, I am not here to talk to you about lighting and camera placement and the best webcasting equipment. There are plenty of YouTube tutorials on those topics. Instead, this post provides direction on how to become a better digital moderator.


A digital moderator must serve as host, interviewer and producer. Bet you didn’t consider the “producer” hat. But the fact is, any good show starts with a producer, someone who develops the outline and the flow, and then selects the elements that will create an entertaining and informative program. Even if someone else is doing some of this work behind the scenes, as the moderator, you should at the very least take on the pre-production role of pre-interviewing all panelists. Without taking this step, your session could easily lose focus and flow, or become repetitive..or all of the above.


Preferably, the pre-interview should be done via video. Speaking with each panelist in advance serves several purposes.


  1. You can learn about the type of information each panelist can uniquely provide, which will enable you to develop relevant questions and steer the conversation.

  2. You can ensure that each panelist focuses on a different subject or angle, thereby avoiding redundancy.

  3. You can get clued into each panelist’s presentational quirks. More on that in a minute.

  4. Establishing a pre-meeting connection will give even the edgiest panelist a higher comfort level.


Now, about those quirks. The pre-interview is the time when you learn whether speakers are bores, or if they fancy themselves as witty intellectuals. Knowing these tendencies in advance will help you create a game plan to avoid ennui, ill-advised humor or tedious lectures.


It’s all in the questioning.  For the long-winded panelist, it’s best to ask questions that encourage succinct answers. For example, “Diane, can you briefly sum up, in about two minutes, how technology can enable better eco-tourism practices?”  Similarly, if the panelist tends to spit out technical jargon, the moderator might ask, “Joe, for those of us who are not industry experts, could you explain in simple terms how that works?” In either case, if the panelist reverts to bad habits, feel free to gently interrupt to ask for clarification or brevity. 


A good moderator also makes sure that each panelist gets his or her proper face time. Balance your speakers. Don’t allow one to dominate. As the anchor, you need to be aware of who is hogging the spotlight, who’s reluctant to speak and who’s somewhere in the middle. You might have to gently cut off the palaverous ponderings of Spotlight Suzy, while drawing out the deep thoughts of Shy Simon. Another way to balance is by doing rapid-fire response rounds among all the panelists, or asking for feedback about what another person said.


As an anchor and as a moderator, you have to be able to multi-task. You have to stay aware of the time, and ensure time is available for audience questions and answers. If questions are submitted on a side panel, you, as the moderator, need to keep an eye on what’s coming in the whole time, while continuing to pay attention to what your speakers are saying.


Listening, in fact, is the most critical skill any moderator can have. Certainly, it’s important to have a prepared outline of questions. But a good moderator will toss those out on the fly should the conversation warrant. Instead of sticking to your list of questions, LISTEN to what speakers are saying and follow up on important points they are making, even if it steers the discussion a bit off-course. That said, don’t let too many digressions take you completely off topic. As the conductor of the session, you do need to make sure the conversation ultimately stays on track. 


In the next post, more on improving your presentation skills.


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Five Wellness Experiences to Enjoy in Nature

There’s nothing like a global pandemic to wake people up to the wonders of Mother Nature, whether it’s in the form of countryside, coastline or mountains. And that’s not by chance. The science behind the benefits of nature is proven, to the point where both doctors and wellness practitioners are increasingly prescribing outdoor activities that reap medicinal benefits, without the side effects. This “discovery” of the healing power of nature has pushed wellness vacations in nature to the top of health-conscious travelers’ lists. Here are five ways up your wellness quotient naturally, on your next trip.


Find Open Sky


There are few things more awe-inspiring than gazing up at a night sky untouched by light pollution. Stars that you didn’t even know existed glimmer brightly, and constellations and the Milky Way are easily visible. Looking up at a dark sky is a stellar wellness experience, often resulting in a meditative, beta-wave state.

If you want to take a star trek, head first to the International Dark-Sky Association website. IDSA certifies places with night sky-friendly lighting. The best of the best are called Dark Sky Sanctuaries. There are only ten of them in the entire world, and only one is in the United States. Cosmic Campground is in the Gila National Forest in the western part of New Mexico. Those with a fear of the dark need not apply. The closest source of man-made light is about 40 miles away. There aren’t a lot of hotels around here, either. So, after gazing up, you might want to plunk yourself down in Silver City, which is about an hour away.

Woodland Wellness

Since being developed in Japan 40 years ago, forest bathing has become somewhat of a global sensation. We’re not just talking about a walk in the woods here. A forest bath is a total immersion into the sights, sounds and smells of the woods. Several American resorts now offer guided forest bathing experiences as part of their wellness menus.

The Lodge at Spruce Peak is a year-round resort located in Stowe, Vermont. Its guided excursion explores the Green Mountains. Don’t be surprised if the guide asks you to take off your shoes, as contact with the wet, cool ground is believed to create a stronger connection to nature. The Lodge at Woodloch in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains brags about its certified Forest Bathing Specialists, who lead two-hour jaunts that focus on breathing and mind-clearing.

Say Hay

Sleeping on hot, wet hay was first popularized in Italy’s Dolomites. Farmers who cut hay used to sleep on it after a long day of work. But the new version of the practice is not just a roll in the hay. Wellness-seeking straw sleepers will instead find themselves wrapped in bales infused with fermented mountain herbs. The active substances in the herbs have a calming and anti-inflammatory action, and are said to strengthen the immune system and promote circulation.

While hay bathing is offered at many resorts in the Dolomites and has also spread to some places in Eastern Europe, it’s not a wellness option easily found in North America. Right now, the best bet may be a visit to Chicago’s Piva Beer Spa. As its name suggests, this place offers soaking rooms with wooden tubs filled with a brew of barley, hops and brewer’s yeast. After soaking up the beer bath, guests are moved to a relaxation room, where they lie on beds of hay. For those who want to roll straight from the hay to a comfy mattress, the closest hotel is The Robey, located in trendy Wicker Park.

Hot Spring Bubbles

The healing powers of hot springs have been appreciated for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks, the ancient Romans and the Founding Fathers were all fans of natural waters warmed geothermally. Due to their high mineral contact, hot springs are reputed to have a number of therapeutic benefits, including boosting immunity and circulation, reducing stress and relieving pain.

There are plentiful natural hot springs throughout the Mountain West. However, many are hard to find, and don’t have facilities nearby. To soak without roughing it, check out the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop. If you follow the entire 720-mile route in the western part of the state, you can experience hot springs in 17 different destinations. Two of the top resort towns along the loop are Pagosa Springs and Glenwood Hot Springs.

Knee-Deep in Kneipping




Back in the 19th century, a German priest named Sebastian Kneipp revolutionized naturopathy. He came up with an idea to develop nature trails where people would wander barefoot through hot and cold water, and over sand, pebbles and forest ground. Countless Germans swear by the practice. While kneipping courses are abundant in the old country, Kneipp knowledge hasn’t seemed to translate to North America. So, if you want to try kneipping without stepping on a plane, head to a forest dotted with glacial waters and set your own course. Give kneipping a whirl, for example, in the Adirondacks or Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.


A version of this article appeared on the Orbitz blog.

Friday, August 14, 2020

The Nature of Green Wellness Communities

The COVID-19 crisis has given everyone a new perspective on the importance of integrating nature into our everyday lives. Pre-pandemic, we were busy hurtling from home to job, usually in cars or crowded public transportation, often in busy urban areas, with little time built in to experience the great outdoors.


Nature heals: Living in green neighborhoods linked with ...


During the past few months, nature has provided a bit of relief to millions of people in search of physical and mental health. Breathing in fresh air, enjoying the aromas of nature, feeling a relaxing breeze, hearing birds singing and looking up at the stars have served as natural tonics for anxiety and cabin fever. Indeed, the lockdown has taught us that people need landscapes. In this digital age, the value of the IRL natural world is finally back where it should be--front and center.



This renewed appreciation of nature as a contributor to health and wellness will be one of the long-lasting outcomes of this era. Going forward, that is likely to translate into a greater desire for residential neighborhoods and public spaces that emphasize wellness components. 




The way urban and community planners think about space will change following the pandemic, according to Pablo S. Massari, an associate principal at EDSA, a Florida-based landscape architecture firm. Parks and outdoor environments will be prioritized and re-imagined. “In Victorian times,” he said, “people noticed cities getting unhealthier, so they developed parks with canopies and shade. In recent decades, those natural features have been crowded out by tennis courts and playgrounds and skating parks. (But today), most outdoor spaces today are overly programmed for recreation and sports, with very little space for canopy and trails.” Now is the time to change that, he said, by bringing back canopy and greenery, both in parks and in residential areas. 


Enhancing New Urbanism through greenway design | CNU
Courtesy: Congress for the New Urbanism


In terms of community planning then, as new neighborhoods are designed, green space is key. A priority should be put on the ability to traverse the neighborhood by foot or bike. Developing neighborhood greenways, low-traffic streets where bicyclists and walkers get priority over motorists, or dedicated trails for non-motorized vehicles can help do the trick. Communal gardens and outdoor “open play” areas are other features that can add green elements and opportunities for human connection, both of which are key to wellness.



The 19th Hole


When we discuss wellness, we are talking about it holistically. It is not solely human health that we seek to improve, but also the environment at large. That is why, when discussing wellness communities, we should reconsider the idea of homes built around a golf course. Golf courses are known water guzzlers, and the use of fertilizer and pesticides to maintain their manicured lawns are not good for the environment. Furthermore, golf courses located near protected or sensitive areas can have negative impacts on local flora and fauna. 



According to EDSA’s Massari, particularly in areas where water is scarce, extra land should be used for less impactful forms of recreation, or for agriculture, both of which serve to benefit nature and people. 




Monday, August 10, 2020

Shining the Spotlight on Wellness Real Estate

The wellness zeitgeist has been permeating our culture during the past decade. People run around the world in search of wellness practices. At home, they spend spend thousands of dollars a year on SoulCycle and smoothies. Yet, what has been largely overlooked as the movement has exploded is the wellness of one's physical home and the neighborhood that surrounds it.


As most of us have been spending 24/7 inside for the last few months, the realization that home is where the health is has become a reality. Suddenly, there is an understanding that the home environment itself should be healthy and healing, from the quality of the air to the availability of sunlight to the materials used in construction. And, as we take short jaunts around our neighborhoods, we are increasingly appreciating the lure of outdoor features like tree canopy, green spaces, water and walking trails.


Wellness Community, the new lifestyle reality to life a healthy ...
A running trail in Emilia-Romagna's Wellness Valley
Courtesy: Technogym


It's not surprising, then, that many experts predict that this pandemic will change the way people choose to live. Even before COVID, there were studies indicating that lifestyle and environmental factors account for nearly 85 percent of one's health outcomes. It's not a coincidence that during the lockdown, there’s been almost a primordial urge to return to arcadia, in the form of countryside, coastline or mountains.  At the same time, though, in isolation, people are realizing the importance of IRL connection and community.


That is why wellness real estate is set to experience its moment. The wellness real estate sector was already in a nascent state pre-COVID. But post-pandemic, the trend toward buying healthy homes and real estate in wellness communities will grow as more people take into consideration how their living environments support their physical, mental and emotional state of being. 


The Global Wellness Institute has been watching this trend develop over the past decade. According to Build Well to Live Well: Wellness Lifestyle Real Estate and Communities, wellness real estate was a $134 billion worldwide industry in 2017, and, at the time of the report, was expected to grow to $180 billion in 2022. Given that pandemic, expect that number to top $200 billion.


There are several important features of the communities that are actually walking the wellness walk. They include the use of natural and no-VOC materials in construction; the incorporation of biophilic elements in design, and an abundance of unprogrammed outdoor spaces (that means no golf courses and concrete-covered playground areas). A focus on community-building and social connection is another vital element of a true wellness neighborhood, one that is often overlooked by companies that are trying to glom on to the trend without really understanding the importance and the nuances of a holistic approach. This could result, for example, in larger front porches, smaller front yards and more communal spaces.


Over a series of blog posts, I will be exploring the key ingredients that every wellness community worth its salt must sport. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Rethinking Hotel Design to Connect Guests to Nature

I wrote this article for Skift in October, 2019. If I do say so for myself, it's rather prescient. Given all of the events that have taken place to date in 2020, there is no doubt that travelers will be seeking out hotels incorporating wellness elements and green spaces inside and out.

As luxury hotels strive to incorporate wellness into their offerings, they would be wise to attend to the principles of biophilic design.

Any student of etymology should easily be able to define the word “biophilia.” It stems from the Greek words for life and love. As defined in English, biophilia suggests man’s innate biological connection with nature. It’s why a walk in the woods is soothing and why light is stimulating. Basically, it’s why nature makes us feel better.

But how does one apply the principles of biophilia to indoor spaces, which are separated from nature? That’s where biophilic design comes into the equation.

These hospitality spaces take biophilic design to a new level ...
terramai.com

Much of today’s built environment lacks natural light, organic materials, and other nods to nature. Yes, the presence of plants can be therapeutic, but true biophilic environments are not achieved by way of add-on features, like a plant in every room. Instead, biophilic design means incorporating nature in every aspect of design.

It’s the use of natural materials whenever possible. It’s incorporating the curvy patterns (or fractals) found in nature into the design of carpets and furnishings. It’s imagining how people move through the space. It’s creating areas of refuge, where guests can feel protected. In all, there are at least 14 key elements of biophilic design. These are outlined in a brief bible of biophilic design produced by Terrapin Bright Green, an environmental consultancy.

Two New Biophilic Design Case Studies - Terrapin Bright Green
terrapinbrightgreen.com

“Biophilic design can be very powerful in the hospitality industry,” according to Lorraine Francis, design principal for Cadiz Collaboration. She said it can be “a cost-effective way to enhance the guest experience while improving well-being and health. (Use of biophilic) principles enable us to not only create a more engaging design experience but also trigger a deeper affinity to certain brands.”

According to Bill Browning, founding partner of Terrapin Bright Green, there’s room in the market for a hotel brand to own biophilic design. “Hospitality is one of the few places where designers tend to pay attention to all five senses. And since experiences are more intense when multiple senses are engaged simultaneously,” this bodes well for brand differentiation. Browning painted the picture: “The feel of the textiles; the scents of flowers, candles and food; crackling of logs in a fireplace; the splash of water in a fountain; the texture of wood grain and stone in furnishings; and birds singing in a lobby are ways of creating more memorable spaces.”


These hospitality spaces take biophilic design to a new level ...
A hotel lobby with several biophilic design features
terramai.com

The key in biophilic design, though, is to not overdo it. Browning said the idea of focusing on one or two elements is the way to go: “Hoteliers should decide what they want guests to experience from the space and then provide complementary biophilic design. But they shouldn’t go crazy.” Otherwise, the cacophony of features might prove overwhelming.


WESTIN LOOKS TO NATURE

Westin’s claim to fame within the Marriott batch of brands is wellness. While the brand came from Starwood with some biophilic elements built in, the design was neither consistent nor ubiquitous, either throughout an individual hotel or throughout the brand. That’s why David Kepron, vice president of Marriott’s Global Design Strategy Group, thought the brand was ripe for a biophilic design makeover.

A Westin model room shows  the use of light in biophilic design, with light fixtures casting shadows and shapes found in nature. Photo: Westin Hotels & Resorts

“Because of a better understanding of neuro-physiology, the mind-body connection to experiencing space,” said Kepron, “the design team is working on better ways to create ‘cognitive handshakes’ throughout Westin — designing rooms and public spaces that respond to an individual’s neurobiological needs.”

While biophilic design is being considered holistically, the main element that Westin is focusing on is light. Kepron illuminated, “Westin plans to own light. We look at it in three ways. There’s the aesthetic quality. Both the light fixtures and the quality of light emanating from them need to be beautiful. We will use lighting that casts shadows or that allows for diffused light (an example would be a frosted glass wall between the bathroom and the bedroom, allowing natural light to filter in). Finally, we want light to respond to human biorhythms,” which may ultimately help guests use lighting as a tool for better sleep.

Westin will also be adding more natural elements to its rooms. In lieu of framed art of pastoral settings, Westin is adding three-dimensional sculptural elements made from organic materials or depicting natural themes. A major feature in each room will be the wall behind the headboard, which will incorporate natural colors and materials that are reflective of the location.

LUSH LIVING WALLS MEAN GREEN — IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE

An Orbitz study of millennials found that nearly one-fourth would pay $50 to $100 more for a room filled with plants. Along those lines, biophilic design can incorporate living walls. The Thompson Chicago, for example, sports a two-story-high wall of foliage behind its lobby bar. In Singapore, cab drivers call the PARKROYAL on Pickering the “jungle hotel.” That’s because it’s designed as a high-rise garden, with plants cascading from exterior and interior walls.


A Green Wall cascades behind the lobby bar at The Thompson, Chicago

What’s the payoff for incorporating Mother Nature in hotel design? Guests will likely feel better while hotels will make more money. Terrapin, Interface, and Gensler collaborated on a study to observe pricing trends for hotel rooms with and without a view at hotels. The study found that rooms with a view to nature, particularly to water, are consistently priced higher than rooms without one. For resort hotels there was an 18 percent difference while a natural view from a city hotel could be priced up to 12 percent more.

But for Kepron, biophilic design is not just about the money. “Margin is in the mood,” he said. “There’s something to be said for considering the ROI of magic and memory.”