Natural Connection: Why Hotels Should Help Guests Connect with Nature

March 6, 2019



One of the great joys and challenges of being a hotelier is that your vocabulary is always expanding. Ours is an industry that closely reflects the progression of technology, wellness, networking, cuisine, and many other aspects of life. If something matters to people on an ‘everyday’ level, it will find its way into the hotel ecosystem sooner rather than later.


Today’s word of the week is “biophilia” – or more specifically, biophilic design. I believe we can safely add these words to our vocabulary, and that their relevance to hotel design will only grow in years to come.


The term “biophilia” was coined by a German-born psychologist named Erich Fromm. A broader understanding of the concept known as the “biophilic hypothesis” was outlined by a biologist, Edward O. Wilson, during the 1980s. Basically, the hypothesis says that human beings are attracted to vitality and life; that we derive happiness from being connected to nature and biology.


The relevance of this concept is written all over modern life. People today are visiting conservation areas and eco-lodges in record numbers. To relieve stress, we travel to sandy beaches and lush forests. We hike, climb, ski and surf. Everyday life may need to be conducted in the city – for many people, that’s how the system works. But the purest forms of inspiration are found in the unspoilt places of the world, and even the most dedicated urbanite feels the occasional need to escape. (This has become an ingrained part of some cultures such as Japan, where Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing has become a well-established form of therapy.)

Increasingly though, we see the demand for a merger between these two worlds – that is, a demand for urban settings to be infused with the vitality of nature. Hospitals, for example, are experimenting with gardens, water features, animal visits, natural light, and digital projections of nature scenes. These experiments are based on growing evidence that natural features can produce positive health benefits for hospital patients.


Biophilic design is also on the rise in residential projects, offices, public spaces, and of course hotels. The West Hotel Sydney, for example, features a central courtyard that is lush and green, as well as a garden atrium that blends internal greenery with views of the city. New York’s Hudson Hotel has green canopy ceilings over the bar and lobby area. It also has a private interior park, and several terraces overlooking the city’s iconic Central Park, next to which the property is located. The Parkroyal in Singapore is probably one of the best examples of how to embed nature into a commercial environment and for which it has won numerous awards. Examples are multiplying around the world as we speak, and many of them are quite stunning – but does biophilic hotel design really hold water? How does it translate to concrete value for hotels?


Research conducted by a carpet design company (Interface) and a sustainability consulting firm (Terrapin Bright Green) focused on the revenue opportunities available through biophilic design. Some of the findings are no great surprise to those who work in hospitality, but it helps to see them delineated and placed into this particular context. Waterfront and landmark views, for example, command substantial premiums in our business and according to this study, infusing guestrooms with more plant life had a net positive effect on guest experiences. In fact, participants who stayed in hotels with biophilic elements rated those rooms more highly and used the word “experience” twice as much in their post-stay reviews, compared to participants who stayed in properties without those elements. 


Another important (if obvious) suggestion from this piece of research is that you can take biophilic design too far. People might crave a closer connection to the biological world, but too much greenery creates a feeling of insecurity that works against the guest experience. 


So what qualifies as biophilic design, aside from potted plants? 


Hotel designers are using reclaimed wood, vertical hydroponic gardens, indoor waterfalls, multilevel terraces, and rustic furnishings to craft a guest experience that feels connected to nature. Even rooftop gardens that furnish hotel restaurants with home-grown produce are an example of biophilic design. Where the climate is agreeable, open transitions from indoor to outdoor spaces can enhance feelings of connectedness to both natural and urban environments. 


Of course, no fancy terminology is needed. You can call it whatever you want; but if bringing more of nature into the hotel setting can infuse the guest experience with more serenity, more inspiration and a greater sense of refuge, well – the statistics show that these enhancements will be reflected in the form of positive reviews, repeat visits, and increased revenue. And these are words every hotelier can understand.


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