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Rethinking the use of outdoor space, with Scott LaMont

Innovative hotels are rethinking the use of outdoor space. This week, Scott LaMont, CEO of EDSA Landscape Design, chats with The Innovative Hotelier Podcast Host Robin Trimingham about how a number of leading properties are introducing outdoor fusion spaces within their property and ways in which our understanding of what “makes a place” is being transformed.

As a part of a broader trend to create an environment that is supportive of mental and physical well being, LaMont discusses how brands are reexamining previously ignored corridors and secondary spaces with an eye towards how they can be converted into hybrid spaces that accommodate new needs and ultimately increase ROI.

Highlights from Today’s Episode

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Episode Transcript

Scott: We did a project last year for a client not too far from our office here at Boca Raton, Florida. And one of the big focuses there was to create a new amenity environment in the place of what it was, an old probably built in the late 60s, early 70s conference space. Because the hotel really needed to get back to that outdoor environment, and really provide something new and different for their guests. And what that allowed them to do was to cater to a variety of different guests. All of that contributes to their guests’ profile and elevating the return on their investment for that because they’re getting guests now and members now that they may have not gotten before.

Robin: Welcome to the Innovative Hotelier Podcast by HOTELS Magazine, with weekly thought-provoking discussions with the world’s leading hotel and hospitality innovators.

I’m your host, Robin Trimingham, and my guest today is Scott LaMont, CEO of EDSA Landscape Design. Today we’re chatting about rethinking the use of outdoor space.

This podcast is presented to you by Franke Coffee Systems. At Franke, we think coffee is about more than beans and machines. It’s all about the moment when you create an amazing coffee experience for your customers. Welcome, Scott.

Scott: Morning, Robin, how are you today?

Robin: I’m just great. Thank you very much for finding some time to chat with me. From the last couple of years, there’s been an heightened importance of reconnecting with nature. And I think that idea is just continuing to grow. What’s your perspective on what’s been going on?

Scott: We have an interesting perspective. Because, you know, here at EDSA, we’re planners and landscape architects. So, as landscape architects, the outdoor environment’s always been really important to us, and in the forefront of our thinking and our work and our design. So, the fact that everyone is now reconnecting with nature in a new way is exciting for us as designers. It gives us an opportunity to enhance the work that we do and bring it to the forefront of our clients’ minds when they’re developing hotel and resort developments.

Robin: Well, that makes sense. I’ve been reading that there’s been a lot of buzz around creating what they’re calling fusion spaces. So, how would you say our understanding of the intersection between art and landscape design is being impacted by all of this?

Scott: What’s interesting about that is if you look at how art sits in the landscape, going back more than 10 years, art was an element within the landscape. And over time, that has really kind of adjusted to where art has become part of the landscape, or in some cases, the landscape is art. That’s been an interesting challenge for us is from a design perspective, and it’s given us the opportunity to engage in a lot of collaboration with great artists around the world to start thinking about how these spaces can be used, and how we can incorporate art into the thought process of the development of the design, and not just as a mural or an afterthought in the design once it’s complete. And the fusion spaces are also a place for us to have a little bit of fun, because we’re using spaces in different ways now, and we’re finding the opportunity to utilize space for a variety of different uses and programming it. And so now as we’re approaching this from a design perspective, it gives us the opportunity to think a little bit outside the box for how these spaces might be used and might be programmed to try to anticipate for that to provide for that flexibility in the future.

Robin: I think this is going to be a new idea to a lot of the hoteliers who listen to this podcast. Can you give us an example?

Scott: Oh, an example of some of those spaces are really looking at spaces that are maybe tangential to a primary space, that maybe in the past has been a courtyard that’s been overlooked or not really used or used as a pass-through. And thinking about how that space might be used in a different way. Looking at it through a new lens. Can that space be set up, you know, for an outdoor dining experience? Can that space be set up for an opportunity for people to take a break from their holiday or from their stay and do a little bit of work in an outdoor space? Those type of environments provide that flexibility, you just have to look for those spaces. And being a landscape architect, that’s fun for us to go into these properties and try to reimagine them and see if we can find those transitional spaces and turn them into something special.

Robin: So that’s sort of a segue into my next question about what makes a place and how is our understanding of that evolving?

Scott: For me, what makes a place is really emotion. You walk into certain spaces and they make you feel a certain way. And that can be done or accomplished in a variety of different ways. Could be from the amount of light that a space is given, could be from a biophilic design, and bringing in the landscape into the indoors, creates an environment that might be perceived a little bit differently. But you’re looking for that sense of place. And going back to art, what we’ve seen in many projects is the opportunity to break art in this space, projects a little bit of an attitude in the space. And also, that gives the space identity. And so, all of these things kind of come together to define place. So, I know that is a little bit around the block, but there’s not a linear answer to what makes it a place because all of these elements contribute to your experience, the senses, the sights, the sounds, and that’s what gives you that emotion that makes it feel right.

Robin: So in other words, what you’re telling me is you might be talking about a sculpture or some sort of installation that involves water.

Scott: Well, it could certainly…that could be the vehicle to create that, but that’s not necessarily the only way to accomplish it. Certainly, in many cases, you know, you can see and probably imagine in your mind, spaces that give you that feeling of place, because you have something central or iconic that grounds the space. But it can be more subtle than that, and oftentimes it is, especially in the hospitality business, everyone understands the importance of that first impression and that arrival. And when you might walk into a hotel lobby, or in our world of pulling through the drive and coming into the front of the hotel, those elements that define those spaces set the attitude for your experience, right? And it doesn’t necessarily have to be one singular element, it’s all of these different things coming together to create and establish a sense of place.

Robin: So it’s sort of the layering of all of these things in combination?

Scott: Yeah, that’s well said. I think it is very much a layered experience.

Robin: That’s very cool. So thinking about infusing moments of well-being into the space into the experience, how would that impact the design of say, a hotel lobby, or maybe a convention center or corridor? Can you give us an example of what that would look like or imply?

Scott: Well, I think when you’re looking for a moment of well-being, you’re trying to connect with somebody on a human level, right? And really provide an experience for them that’s relatable and comfortable, so that they’re in that space. And if you think about our world as landscape architects, oftentimes, we look to blur the lines between the indoor and the outdoor environment to accomplish that in some cases. You know, everyone loves these transitional spaces where you’re on the edge, where you’re not quite inside and you’re not quite outside. And I think we’ve all seen examples of that in our own communities where dining has broken the walls for many of these restaurants into those spaces. So, I think those moments where you’re able to experience that from a different perspective than maybe we were thinking about a few years ago, elevate your sense of well-being, and in some cases, safety of that environment.

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I think you’re absolutely right. I remember, you know, as a young person, the spaces were very highly defined, everything had a purpose. You were either in the lobby, or you were in the bar, or you were in the living room, whatever the case may be. But now how we interpret these things, it’s really changed a lot. Talk to me a little bit about graffiti. Because once upon a time, that would have been considered simply an act of vandalism, not a thing of beauty or something to be experienced. So, how is our understanding of the benefit of gathering in outdoor spaces wherever they may be, elevating how we embrace the outdoors?

Scott: Well, it’s interesting when you see the graffiti or in some cases, these beautiful murals that are created, it makes art very accessible, because it feels very friendly and tangible, and it’s a very strong supporting element within some of the spaces that can be created. It, alone, will not necessarily stand on its own to define the space. Certainly the thought around the programming of the development certainly plays a major role, and again, that emotion that you’re trying to achieve. But it is interesting to see how that’s changed over the years, and what’s a comfortable space, and what would be acceptable in that environment. There’s, I think a sense of a bit more casual atmosphere than maybe what was expected, as in if you look at the hospitality brands, you’re seeing different trends. I was just at a hotel last night, it was focused on food and wine, right? And it was very friendly and very accessible, and it was a very high-end experience, but it was casual and comfortable. So, I think there’s some parallels there to the graffiti moments that you see that bring that to make it more accessible for the guests.

Robin: Okay. So, the million dollar question here, we’ve been talking in very esoteric terms, to somebody who’s not familiar with your world. What advice would you give to a boutique hotel looking to incorporate some of these trends on a tight budget? What is the most impactful way in your opinion that they could transform a space?

Scott: Well, the good news is that you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money to have good design. It’s about how you approach the space and the thought that you put in and how it can be used. What’s really exciting is to be able to look at some of these spaces and try to look at them through a different lens and try to think about how they’re being used, or how they could be used differently than they’re being used today. In many of the hotels, especially with boutique hotels that have been around and established, there’s a certain pattern of functionality that has developed over time. And if you strip those layers back and look at it with fresh eyes, oftentimes you see new opportunity. And it might be as simple as a rearrangement of the FF&E within this space, maybe as simple as opening up to the outdoors in another area and breaking through a wall and creating an entirely different environment that has just never been looked at in that way.

So, my advice would be to look at things with open eyes and encourage to think outside of the four walls, so to speak, and try to look at it from a perspective of what can we do that’s different, and not be grounded in what you’ve always done before in these spaces. And we’ve got great examples of that, of projects that we’ve worked on that…particularly legacy properties that have been around for years and years, that maybe over time became a little bit more insulated from the outdoor environment. Where maybe once upon a time, and the project I’m thinking of in particular, was a hotel that was built in the 1920s, where the outdoor environment was very purposeful. And then as time went on, it became more interior-oriented. Opening back up to that outdoor environment was a critical. It is a simple move that changed the entire dynamic of the property.

Robin: So any hotelier at all from any property of any size who is listening to what you have to say and likes the sound of this, the bottom line is they’re going to have to pitch this in terms of the cost of the renovation or the improvements, and what kind of ROI they can anticipate from doing all of this. Can you give us any examples where a property did these sorts of things, and it ultimately boosted bookings or hotel rates or occupancy levels?

Scott: For sure. Certainly, when we’re looking at these type of assignments, that’s the forefront of our mind in creating those environments where people can utilize these spaces, there’s definitely an understanding of the business aspect of this and what the hotel can gain from a programming standpoint. Sometimes it’s as simple as looking at what’s within the offering of a hotel. Are there elements that could be incorporated that can boost the overall experience, therefore elevating the stay or that brand? We did a project that just finished late last year for a client, The Boca Raton, not too far from our office here in Boca Raton, Florida. And one of the big focuses there was to create a new amenity environment, in the place of what was an old probably built in the late 60s, early 70s conference space. Because the hotel really needed to get back to that outdoor environment, and really provide something new and different for their guests. And what that allowed them to do was to cater to a variety of different guests, bringing much more family-friendly, multi-generational tourism, bringing these aspects in. All of that contributes to their guests’ profile and elevating the return on their investment for that because they’re getting guests now and members now that they may have not gotten before.

Robin: I think it’s really great when you can find a way to revitalize an iconic property in a way that also enhances our connection with nature. Scott, I’d like to thank you so much for your time today.

You’ve been listening to the Innovative Hotelier Podcast brought to you by HOTELS Magazine. Join us again soon for more up-to-the-minute insights and information, specifically for the hotel and hospitality industry.


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