The guest journey begins outside

Hotel architecture is one of the more intricate and creative aspects of our industry. Even though most of us will never have any input in the design of a new property from the ground up (leave that to the accredited architects), there are still numerous opportunities to leave your mark on a hotel via smaller-scale refurbishments projects – necessary tasks to keep up with the times.

An aspect of architecture and design that is often neglected is a hotel’s exterior and how you populate these spaces to create dramatic points of interest and to generate a distinct sense of place. The primary reason for establishing a strong sense of place even before guests physically enter the hotel is to tap into their emotional states of mind and build positive sentiments right from the start.

While many of these upgrades will break the bank, my bet is that you have neither the disposable cash nor the authorization to initiate such a sweeping overhaul. Hence, we must get creative with our solutions, and below are a few general suggestions to help you find something that works.

Façade facelifts

As a former professional engineer, I can say with hypothesis-tested certainty that once a hotel is built, it takes more than a pretty penny to enhance or modify a building’s outward architecture to the public. That said, we are all guilty of judging a book by its cover, even if this only happens subconsciously. Ergo, there comes a time when power-washing the concrete, repointing the masonry or parging the brickwork mortar simply won’t do and a full-scale facelift is needed to fashion a remarkable sense of place and build anticipation.

Structural modifications are the costliest suggestion here, both in terms of money spent and construction time, but they also have the greatest impact. Two general observations are that we are moving towards more ‘open design’ with a plethora of glass for better natural light and builders are actively incorporating more recycled materials.

Art and sculptures

When chosen prudently, fine art can act as a focal point for an exterior location or as a divider for multi-use. It can breathe new life into a space as well as drawing the eyes away from the less savory aspects of your façade. Additionally, I stress that art affords you the chance to build ties with the community and to enrich the local authentic experience. Two examples help demonstrate this hidden advantage.


Fountains or waterfalls incorporated into outdoor sculptures, expensive as they are, hit our senses on a primal level. The sight of flowing, clean water has always been a form of revitalization. The sounds of gently sloshing liquid can also calm us. Occasionally a slight mist will cake your face, simultaneously shooting you with a rush of cold and refreshing your skin. Water vapor even has a satisfying smell to it. The point here is that water acts upon far more than just your eyeballs, and even though its applications are uncommon, it is nonetheless a tactic towards differentiation.

Lighting and color

As any photographer will tell you, lighting is everything. Would Las Vegas be iconic without its millions of neon lights? How would the art deco properties along Ocean Drive in Miami look at night without a little shine? Chandeliers enchant from their perches atop ballrooms. Christmas trees twinkle through the falling snow and warm our hearts. The pink hue of fluorescent bulbs is palpably distinct from the emblazoned white of OLEDs or the warmth of yellow incandescence. Even the now ubiquitous rows of flatscreen televisions in sports bars can nudge us to feel a certain way about a space.

Flora and fauna

Tall grasses, trees and scrubs can hide unsightly parts of a building’s façade, divide large areas into multi-use spaces or they can add texture and color. Particularly if you are thinking about flowers or herbs, fragrances also become a factor as they work on a subliminal level to elevate guests’ moods. And even though we are primarily discussing plants, this section is titled ‘Flora and Fauna’ because the careful selection of such life can attract members of the animal kingdom, both attractive (birds with vibrant plumage) and aggravating (wasps and mosquitoes). 

Outdoor third place

When considering a third place approach, hoteliers and designers think mostly about remodeling the lobby floor or an interior area already pre-established as a lounge or business facility. Creative space segmentation is essential, with particular attention given to ensure that furniture is comfortable, functional and durable. In many cases, your first thought may be to recruit an F&B franchise to adjoin your hotel, and there is nothing wrong with that so long as there is brand congruence and their signage doesn’t diminish your own.


If you don’t have the budget, you don’t have the budget, plain and simple. But if it’s possible to set aside some yearly cash flow for a capital expenditure of this nature, it is definitely something to consider. Try a combination of the six broad tactics explored above, and feel free to write in to the comments with your own suggestions and specific examples.