Hotel and Venue Operators Rethink Outdoor Spaces for Events

A landscape architect describes how the Covid pandemic has influenced outdoor design and renovation considerations for meetings venues.

Boca Raton Resort and Club Renovation Pool
EDSA sought to create an inviting outdoor environment with the Boca Raton Resort & Club renovation.

Take it Outside
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While health and well-being have been stand-out offerings of the hospitality industry for several years, the pandemic has created a renewed and heightened focus on safety, cleanliness, fresh air and connectivity to the natural environment. Today’s travelers and consumers are shifting their priorities and placing higher value on getting and staying outdoors, be it for business, vacation or recreation.

As experienced first-hand, the lasting effects of Covid-19 – specifically regarding health and wellness concerns — are not going away anytime soon. Ease of accessibility to nature, along with ample, safe, and flexible outdoor gathering spaces, matter more now than ever. Our role as landscape architects is to help shape the future of design with outdoor environments that provide for holistic well-being. It is our mission to keep clients educated on what their audiences are placing the highest importance, so the resulting design is better informed and driven by that human perspective.

EDSA’s recent work with hotels and event venues has brought a distinct shift in client thinking that has moved toward the functionality and flexibility of outdoor environments and open-air spaces. This trend became abundantly apparent last fall when we were tapped by our long-term clients at Informa Markets regarding the hosting of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. Our coordination at the height of the pandemic essentially paved the way for other conventions and exhibitions to follow suit.

Scott Lamont EDSA Landscape Architecture
Scott LaMont, CEO, EDSA

In collaboration with the client team, we sought innovative ways to design and reconfigure event space for a safer, healthier visitor experience. With Informa, our firm emphasized best practices for safety on both a macro and micro level, meaning social distancing was a priority, but so too remained the visitor’s journey — impacting how they moved from one place to another, the overall circulation, traffic flow, and various transportation hubs. EDSA developed multiple points of entry that correlated with different parking options located around the city. Buses and other modes of transportation that took visitors to the Boat Show had specific drop-off points defined by parking location. This also controlled concentration of attendees within the Boat Show itself, as the arrival sequence varied by entrance. As a result, our strategy to disperse crowds also provided different areas of the show with more exposure than usual; it’s an approach that will be used by the venue with other clients in the future.

Refocusing Hotel Renovation

Our planners and designers also saw a realignment in renovation plans for the Boca Raton Resort and Club in Florida. To revitalize the legacy property to its former glory, we’ve emphasized the creation of an inviting outdoor environment along the waterfront of Lake Boca. With lifestyle changes prompted by the pandemic, our renovation reintroduced the property to the alfresco experience, with a more cohesive connection to the natural world. Through a shared vision with the client, programming and activity spaces were brought back to their original intent from the mid-1900s, which centered on the promotion of social interaction and gatherings.

Similarly, EDSA’s work on the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center, a 1,400-room destination in Orlando, involved the pandemic-inspired addition of a new lawn to satisfy the operator’s desire to maximize event space. Our team transformed an area next to the resort’s lazy river and pool by showcasing a rockwork protective barrier along the river.

The addition of outdoor fireplaces and adjustable fencing help transform the event lawn and pool deck into either one big function area or divided among intimate alcoves. The lawn also accommodates the overflow of reserved chaise lounges as a pool amenity for conference-attending clientele – making it easy for the resort to sell the lawn and a portion of the pool. When there are no scheduled events, the lawn is open to guests as a welcoming opportunity to strengthen the relationship between people, place and space.   

Embracing the Elements — and Offering Protection

Among key landscape design considerations for hotel and venue operators as the meetings market regains momentum are ways to ensure that attendees feel comfortable, plugged in and protected from the elements. Rather than relying on tents for shelter, for instance, outdoor settings must be serene with microclimates that tap into natural breezes, tree canopies for shade, spacious grounds for easy social distancing and technology set-ups for reliable connectivity for hybrid meetings.

When the world fully recovers from Covid, hotels and event venues will need to assess how to go about renovations and expansions. From EDSA’s perspective, the hospitality and convention business will return to its former glory, but with a more forward-thinking approach and with designs that can better serve guests, visitors and vendors.

This is an exciting time to be a landscape architect, as people have a heightened awareness when it comes to incorporating the outdoors into design. We are excited to continue working closely with hotel and venue operators and developers who are placing a greater value on functional and adaptable designs that help guests and attendees to have the best possible experience on their property.

Scott LaMont is a landscape architect and CEO of the award-winning firm EDSA. His broad range of global experience spans large-scale planning assignments to mixed-use residential, hospitality and urban works.