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Biophilic hotel design is going mainstream

Michael J. Berens

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

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Biophilic hotel design is going mainstream

Beachfront properties, mountain lake resorts, luxury forest cabins, jungle hideaways, atrium lobbies — the hospitality industry has long known the value of attracting visitors with views of nature.

Recently, though, more hotels and hotel designers have been employing principles of biophilia to enhance guests’ connection to nature within their properties. What once seemed just an extension of eco-design is fast becoming a must-have feature to compete for the custom of discerning travelers.

Briefly defined, the term “biophilia” refers to our innate connection to nature. Although many of us live and go about our daily activities in highly artificial environments, deep down we feel most at home in the natural world.

Given the option, we will choose an environment with natural elements over one that lacks them. Moreover, we respond to spaces positively or negatively depending on whether we feel vulnerable or protected, as we would in nature.

In practice, designers instinctively have always drawn on nature as a source and reference for their designs. Biophilic design is a more conscientious, broader and evidence-based application of those natural principles to the built environment.

It includes the use of natural materials, natural colors, plants, daylighting, nature-replicating artificial lighting (e.g., circadian rhythm), access to and views of nature, prospects, and partitioned or refuge spaces, as well the siting of the property within or with views to impressive natural surroundings.

As a design approach, biophilia is well-suited to the hospitality industry for several reasons. Guests are attracted to properties with proximity to or views of nature, especially bodies of water. Many of today’s travelers, especially millennials, seek out eco-friendly hotels, and biophilic design expresses in a very concrete way a property’s commitment to the environment and sustainability.

Done well, it also adds to delivering a unique or memorable guest experience. And with health and wellness being very much on the mind of today’s travelers, biophilic design incorporates natural elements shown to have positive health effects, such as easing tension, reducing stress, and promoting a positive mood.

An outgrowth of eco and green design, biophilic design has been growing in popularity among hotels, resorts and spas for the past several years. It got a big boost last year, however, when a study conducted by Terrapin Bright Green, Interface and Gensler, entitled “Biophilic Design in the Hospitality Industry,” concluded that among its other benefits, biophilic design was proving to be a “differentiator in the marketplace.”

The study found that properties incorporating biophilic design could charge significantly more for otherwise similarly outfitted guest rooms, had higher rates of guest use of hotel spaces and facilities (such as lobbies, bars and restaurants), high levels of guest satisfaction, and strong marketing presence on online booking sites and traveler review sites, like TripAdvisor.

The hotel industry has since taken notice. Two recent articles, one on HospitalityNet and the other for Hotel Management, have cited the study’s findings while promoting both the financial and wellness benefits of biophilic design. Within the past year, more A&D and travel-oriented websites and blogs have reported on the trend, as well.

The authors of the study comment that given the overwhelming positive response from guests one might expect that more properties would be incorporating aspects of biophilic design than the researchers actually found. They speculate that perhaps limitations of space, location or budget might be the reason.

It’s worth noting, therefore, that biophilic design is quite scalable. It can begin with something as basic as adapting existing spaces through the use of natural colors, materials, plants, and water features.

Given the large proportion of properties that likely will be trying to catch up to this trend, it seems like a great opportunity for hospitality designers to offer their services to benefit their clients and their clients’ customers.

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