Featured Post

Sunday, July 11, 2021

European Luxury Investors Seek Out Open Spaces and Affordable Places

 My most recent piece, which appeared in Hospitality Insights in June. Given that the publication is based in England, British English is used throughout. 

The pandemic may have slowed investment in the European luxury hospitality sector for a spell, but most experts say the market is coming back quickly, albeit in areas with a few key set of characteristics.

By following the money, it’s evident that luxury investors have been showing interest in places that meet the new Covid-era demand for wide-open spaces in natural settings. On the other hand, they are also looking at risk-proofing investments by opting for areas that can have strong appeal to the intra-European luxury market. Right now, leisure destinations that typically attract the long-haul high-end crowd are not so attractive, nor are cities that receive a large share of their hotel nights from convention-goers. 

One&Only's property in Montenegro

Another factor that is driving this push toward investment in high-end leisure actually precedes the pandemic: With the spectre of overtourism hovering, countries including The Netherlands, Spain and Greece had already started shifting focus away from the mass market to “high-quality, high-spend” tourism. “We are moving from a model of ‘the more tourists, the better’ to one of higher expenditures, more nights and premium tourists,” Reyes Maroto, Spain’s tourism minister, recently told the Financial Times.

Post-Covid, it may be easier for EU member countries to move further in this direction, spurred by resources from the organization’s massive €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund. Several countries have announced plans to use the money to modernise tourism infrastructure and otherwise improve destinations in ways that will attract high-end travelers. 

That demand for this market segment is growing is partly confirmed by what is happening in Accor’s development pipeline. According to Davinia Cisier, Accor’s Director Development Luxury Europe, “Over the last five years, Accor has transformed its brand portfolio, moving from 16 brands to 40 with a concentration on high-value segments.” Forty percent of Accor’s current global development pipeline is made up of projects in the ultra-luxury, luxury, premium and collection brands.  

high-end tourism hotspots

The Money Trail

Taking a look at a map of continental Europe, analysts are seeing some notable trends. According to Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate brokerage firm, one-third of transaction volume in 2020 were outside urban locations. However, when focusing solely on deals committed after the virus outbreak, the share of non-urban locations increased to more than 41 percent. According to the company’s analysts, this implies an investor expectation of better long-term prospects for non-urban hotels driven by leisure demand.

The map also shows investment taking place in the mountains. “Nature tourism has boomed during the past year, and more Europeans are getting into the habit of seeing traditional ski areas like Courchevel and Zermatt as four-season destinations,” according to Alex Sogno, the CEO of Global Assets Solutions. Employing ski areas as year-round destinations is likely to become a long-term shift in Europe, the prospects of which have great appeal to investors and developers alike.

Zermatt, Switzerland is one of the European mountain regions
of interest to luxury hospitality developers

Accor’s Cisier also sees growth in mountain destinations, along with traditional resort areas, including Baden-Baden and Ticino. Additionally, she notes that the Balkans region is a prime target for luxury projects, due to factors like, relatively, inexpensive development costs, increased airlift and diverse natural assets. 

Greece is leading the way. Notable recent transactions agreed to after the start of the pandemic, according to Cushman & Wakefield, include a resort portfolio comprising 1,094-rooms across five seafront hotels on Crete and the 990-room Porto Carras resort on the Halkidiki central peninsula.

Also being further developed is Costa Navarino, located in Messinia in the southwest Peloponnese.  Already home to two five-star deluxe hotels, the developers are looking to add a high-end hotel, villas and a new golf course. And One&Only is bullish on the Balkans, opening its Kéa Island property in Greece this year and another resort on the Athenian Riviera next year. 

The Kerzner International company also opened an outpost in Montenegro in 2021. In recent years, Montenegro has benefited from its Adriatic coastline and the UNESCO-listed Bay of Kotor; an emphasis on facilitating investments and offering significant tax exemptions to overseas investors; and a focus on attracting high-end tourism and the yachting community. 

Over to Iberia

Portugal shares many of the investment advantages of the Balkans, including cheap land, transportation access, diverse natural assets and mild weather. In recent years, according to Nuno Miguel Alves, director of investment at Turismo de Portugal, the bulk of the luxury development in that country had been taking place near Lisbon, thanks in large part to the significant upswing in both American and Brazilian luxury travelers since 2016. But during the past year, Alves notes, luxury developers have been eyeing rural areas and coastal areas near Porto, three hours north of Lisbon, and Comporta, located about one hour south of the city. As a tourism destination, Portugal is also looking to broaden the market in Algarve, relying less on the mass market and more on the affluent. This strategy will help attract more visitors to the resort destination during the off-season.
“Our advantage to investors is that Portugal, while in the EU, is more affordable than other countries in Europe. Plus, there has been a growth in overseas airlift (albeit halted by the pandemic) to Lisbon and Porto. In the long term, there is a lot of potential to grow,” he said. 

“Even during this trying time, the desire to invest in luxury hospitality in Portugal didn’t go away. And in the last six months, investors have been willing to take action.” That said, so far, according to Alves, most of the new investments have been distressed assets, and, no surprise, nature resort developments.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Springing into Wellness


Apologies for being relatively silent on this blog recently, but May and June have been abuzz with activity.  I am currently developing a Wellness University curriculum for travel advisors, and penning a 2021 Wellness Hospitality Real Estate Report. Stay tuned for more.

In between, it's back on Zoom. I recently shared my thoughts on growing and promoting wellness tourism during the Eco Hotel Restart Summit.

Here's the link. My main sections are 11-22 minutes and 52-56 minutes into the video. There's also a pithy wrap-up 1 hour in. Forgive the slight time delay and the technical difficulties. Enjoy. 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Why Wellness is the Next Big Thing in Real Estate

Ask people what wellness real estate means and you get a variety of misinformed answers, due to misperceptions about what wellness itself actually entails. Wellness is more than simply a physical construct. True wellness incorporates physical wellness, yes, but also mental wellness, environmental wellness, social wellness and access to nature, the latter of which plays a part in all the other aspects of wellness. 


Let’s face it. Most of us spend the vast majority of our lives inside. In normal times, we shuttle between home and office, with stops at stores, gyms or restaurants. Even when we are on vacation, we spend a lot of time inside, whether we are stuck at the airport or luxuriating inside a resort room. As a result, our indoor spaces have an outsized impact on every aspect of our lives. By ensuring that the places in which we dwell are well, our built environments can be transformed into vehicles for health and well-being. 

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, wellness is having its moment. Perhaps for the first time, people have paused and reflected how the environment around them, whether built by man or Mother Nature, impacts their feelings of well-being.

Real estate should reflect nature

At the same time, scientists are sounding the alarm about how our environment, both outdoor and indoor, impacts our overall health.  According to the World Health Organization, “Whether people are healthy or not is determined by their circumstances and environment. To a large extent, factors such as where we live, the state of our environment, genetics, our income and education level, and our relationships with friends and family all have considerable impacts on health.” 

The real estate industry is taking note of both the science and the wellness awakening that has evolved during the COVID era.  In the past, when the term “wellness real estate” was bandied about (if it was bandied about at all),  it usually referred to the building of a spa, a fitness center, or maybe even a healthcare facility. But now, developers in almost every key sector of the real estate business, including hospitality, residential, retail or commercial, are paying heed to how health and wellness ingredients can be baked into a project. 

Adding glass panels to ceilings helps bring nature inside

While those ingredients may vary depending upon the type of developments, among the ones that should be considered universal are:

  • Access to Nature

  • Air Quality 

  • Acoustic Insulation

  • Biophilic Design

  • Energy-Efficient Lighting/Light Sensors

  • Fitness/Relaxation/Recharging Areas

  • Indoor and Outdoor Green Spaces

  • Indoor and Outdoor Water Elements

  • Natural/Non-Toxic Building Materials

  • Preservation of Green Spaces

  • Sustainability (including energy-saving technologies)

  • Temperature Control

  • Third Spaces for Social Interaction

  • Use of Natural Light

  • Ventilation/Air Filtration Systems

  • Water Filtration Systems

All of these ingredients contribute to wellness, in at least one of its forms. And while, in the past, some of these elements were overlooked or omitted due to budgetary concerns, given the interest in wellness, today, most are no longer optional.

Friday, March 19, 2021

The Relationship Between Third Places and Social Wellness

 Having been stuck in one place for more than a year, I have been thinking a lot about the concept of “third places” and their role in social wellness.


Third places, as defined by Ray Oldenburg in his 1999 book The Great Good Place (and its follow-up called Celebrating the Third Place), are neutral territory; public places where people gather, exchange ideas and have a good time. Third places, writes Oldenburg, "host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work." Such places, he argues, are crucial for building community vitality, democracy and civil society. In my own less lofty terms, third places promote the types of interactions that have the potential to sprout friendships and meaningful social relationships.

According to the National Institutes of Health, there is growing evidence showing that social networks and community involvement, the building blocks of social wellness, have positive health consequences. Persons who are socially engaged with others and actively involved in their communities tend to live longer and be healthier physically and mentally. 


So clearly, there’s a need to create structures to enhance social wellness. Enter third places, where people can regularly socialize in unprogrammed and informal ways. Those places might be community gardens and parks, neighborhood pubs, or for the fortunate few, country clubs. Whatever form they take, third places should serve as forums for social interaction. The most popular third places tend to be easy to get to, either close to home (your first place) or to work (your second place). The quality of propinquity encourages both spontaneity and regularity.

In recent years, Starbucks has bastardized the concept of the third place. Theoretically, a local coffee shop could be a third place. But the key to being an authentic third place is social interaction. What I see when I enter a Starbucks (flashing back to 2019) is a bunch of cappuccino-sipping cosmopolites who are basically alone together. They are all ensconced in their own little worlds, typing away at keyboards while further cutting themselves off from the world with their earbuds.

Alone together

This scene is diametrically opposed to the social construct of a third space. Alone together does not cut it.  A true third place encourages informal conversation and shared experiences on a frequent basis, thereby building a sense of social cohesion. After all, it is only by repetition that we build up relationships.

Our pandemic year forced our first place to become our second and third place as well, and we know how that’s been. Our homes have been converted into places of total retreat from the outside world. With second and third places largely confined to virtual realms, we have quickly discovered that the online world is no substitute for in-person interactions, particularly when it comes to building social relationships.


There’s a pent-up desire for IRL human interaction. When things get back to whatever normal is going to be, people will be seeking out third places where they can reconnect with others. That’s why, in a post-COVID world, there is a real opportunity for those in the real estate realm, whether working in retail, residential or office space, to build third places into their development or retrofit plans.

Look, after a year of being conditioned to work and shop at home, businesses are going to be struggling to convince consumers and employees to do their things away from home. Meanwhile, people are reconsidering where they live, as more jobs become virtual and the value of knowing your neighbors comes back into vogue. Knowing that demand for third places is strengthening, architects, developers and urban planners will all have to start factoring in third places that encourage social wellness. In upcoming posts, I will examine these ideas in greater depth.  

Monday, February 8, 2021

Of Biophilia, Friluftsliv and Mother Nature

I recently penned a 5,000-word opus on behalf of Hawkins International that envisages the lexicon that will dominate the headlines in 2021. The list includes seven words that have come to the fore due to the effects of the pandemic. Here’s another sneak preview. 

Mother Nature’s power to soothe was rediscovered during the pandemic. We craved outdoor spaces for exercise, dining and chatting from safe social distances. We fled cities for the countryside, mountains or beaches. This yearning for the great outdoors will last, manifesting over the next decade with increased emphasis on architecture that encompasses both indoor and outdoor spaces – think spas, shopping malls, and office buildings dotted with courtyards, open-air atria and rooftop gardens.


All of that will mean greater use of biophilic design. The discipline emphasizes natural light, natural materials and patterns evoking nature. It’s also about reflecting nature in color palettes and creating areas of protective refuge. (See more in this brief bible of biophilic design from environmental consultant Terrapin Bright Green.)


To heighten access to nature, more hotels will likely be driven to add balconies or verandas to guest rooms, or at very least windows that actually open. Public spaces will also go alfresco, as we saw during the pandemic with F&B offered in outdoor spaces to enable social distancing, and spas using rooftops for exercise classes and open-air cabanas for treatments. Both trends will likely continue into the future. More meeting areas will likely be designed for indoor/outdoor flow, with The Gettys Group already envisioning the redesign of boardrooms and event areas with plants enhanced by digital projection to simulate nature in places where outdoor access is limited. 


Collective Retreats 
Love of nature was reflected in our travel choices in 2020, which saw a huge rise in demand for camping, glamping and RV rentals. RVshare, a recreational vehicle-sharing marketplace, booked record numbers last year, fueled by the desire of cooped-up pods to get out on the open road. Thanks in part to the RV boom, many camping sites, including several national parks, experienced record numbers. Already trending up, glamping became mainstream, with resorts adding glamping-style units and companies like Collective Retreats and Under Canvas experiencing rapid growth.

Framing Friluftsliv

Then there is the Scandinavian import Friluftsliv, Norwegian for “free air life.” "It’s really putting nature at the forefront of everything that you’re doing in your life,” said Dayna Isom Johnson, Etsy’s trend expert. “In 2020 I think it was the first time a lot of us really gave a sense of more appreciation and connection to the outdoors, and so I think for 2021 that sensibility is going to continue to increase.”

Thursday, February 4, 2021

A New Lexicon for 2021: So Long Pivot, Pods and Social Distancing. Hello, Comfort, Flexibility and Biophilia

 I recently penned a 5,000-word opus on behalf of Hawkins International that envisages the lexicon that will dominate the headlines in 2021. The list includes seven words that have come to the fore due to the effects of the pandemic. Here’s a peek. 


What is comfort post-COVID? It’s about feeling good mentally and physically. Consumers will be looking for products and practices that produce good vibrations and extend a sense of safety and security as well. The desire for comfort spans all sectors, from growth in athleisure wear, to increased sales of residential wellness equipment, to getting “back to basics” with crafting, home cooking, and comfort food to soothe the soul.

 COVID Ushered in a Crafting Craze 

Cue Cottagecore is a lifestyle aesthetic centered on everything warm, fuzzy and nostalgic. Introduced on social media channels a couple years ago, Cottagecore absolutely boomed in 2020. As Gemma Riberti, head of interiors at WGSN Lifestyle & Interiors explained, nostalgia “has an incredibly reassuring power. In times of uncertainty, a well-known past is looked at with fondness and longing.” That’s why so many people locked down at home turned to arts and crafts and home cooking, harkening back to simpler times. Even Taylor Swift got in on the act, ushering the comeback of cable knit cardigans and American folk music with the release of the best-selling album of 2020

A cozy cottage on the coast of Norway

Cottagecore extended to our “cottages.” As Etsy trend expert Dayna Isom Johnson noted, “From calming, nature-inspired hues to dreamy, cozy shapes to the simplicity of bygone eras, we’re all looking to our domestic spaces to bring that sense of comfort, stability, and solace we can’t find elsewhere in the world.”

The meaning of comfort has expanded during COVID, with privacy and space becoming huge factors in comfort expectations. Many are seeking out wide-open expanses in nature, private villas or glamping-style suites for vacations, second homes in less-populated areas, and transportation via private jet. Even mass carrier Delta won big during the pandemic with its promise to keep middle seats empty.

In the hospitality space, we saw increased interest in self-catering accommodations, and hotels rejiggering public areas to create more private nooks. Many also utilized suites as private dining rooms: Bloomberg News cited several hotels that adopted this strategy, including the Eliot Hotel in Boston, where in-house dining spot Uni employed a handful of rooms to serve ramen and sushi accompanied by piped-in music. Montage Kapalua Bay moved its traditional beachside luau into residential-style guestrooms, offering safe places for guests to experience Polynesian food, dance and music.

In-room Dining at The Peninsula

Comfort post-COVID will also entail enhancing feelings of safety and security, largely through perceived hygiene. Retail, restaurants and hospitality will need to make their cleaning protocols front and center. For example, since last spring, United has been publicizing its CleanPlus program, a partnership with Clorox and the Cleveland Clinic. Hyatt was among the hotel companies setting up programs with rigorous safety and cleanliness protocols. Other hotels are working to build consumer trust and comfort with verified health security systems such as Sharecare Health Security VERIFIED® with Forbes Travel Guide, a tech-enabled verification system that establishes a consistent global baseline for health security across more than 360 expert-validated standards.

Many new cleanliness protocols are bound to stick at airports, just as post-9/11 security enhancements did. Kevin Burke, president and CEO of Airports Council International – North America recently told NBC News that “those technologies and protocols include sanitizing robots, restrooms that alert maintenance crews when cleaning is needed [and] contactless check-in, bag check and credential authentication.”

The relationship between comfort and nature was never stronger than during the pandemic and it will continue far into the future, which is why it's the next lexeme on our list. The word “biophilia” stems from the Greek for “life” and “love,” suggesting humanity’s innate biological connection with nature. It’s why we find a walk in the woods so soothing and natural light so stimulating. Basically, biophilia is why nature makes us feel better.

More on that in the next blog post.

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.


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.

Natural Hot Springs in Idaho

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 Cañon Del Rio Inn and Spa in Jemez Springs, New Mexico.


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.


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.