Mr. Hutcheson

Eco-Friendly Practices

How to Create a Comfortable Landscape Environment for Guests

By Ken Hutcheson, President, U.S. Lawns

Making guests feel comfortable during their stay is a critical part of a guests' overall experience. Whether they're traveling for business or pleasure, hoteliers to create the right environment-from the interior to the exterior-to satisfy guests' expectations and make them feel at home. For example, business travelers are looking for clean and efficient features, while vacationers are looking for features that will help them unwind and relax.

In order to create the perfect atmosphere for guests, it's important for hoteliers to work with both their on-site management team and a landscaping contractor to create a year-round landscaping strategy. The plan should not only align with the hotel's brand image, but also infuse specific features that will make your clientele happy (i.e. families, single business travelers, couples, etc.).

How the Environment Impacts the Guest Experience

A hotel's ultimate goal is to create repeat customers. But in order to do so, hotels need to create a positive experience from the beginning to the end of their guests' stay. The best way to accomplish this is to think from the guest's perspective: hoteliers should ask themselves what type of amenities and elements would make their guests feel more at home? While there are many components that go into creating a positive experience (décor, customer service, dining experience, etc.), the first interaction that guests actually have with a hotel is in arriving at the property. The landscape is a direct extension of the hotel's brand. If a guest is staying at a Ritz Carlton, Intercontinental, or Park Hyatt, they expect the grounds to be equally as beautiful as the hotel's interior. However, if it's a 2 or 3 star hotel/motel, guests don't expect there to be an abundance of vegetation, but they do expect the grounds to be well manicured and clean at a minimum. Focusing on your guest's expectations is an important part of making them comfortable.

The landscape is powerful enough to impact the mood of its guests. If a guest is traveling to a 4 to 5 star resort for vacation, they expect to see lavish and colorful vegetation when they arrive on the property to similarly reflect their excited and upbeat mood. In the same way, colorful foliage or gardens found in 4 to 5 star hotels located in urban areas can boost the mood of business travelers.

Infusing Grounds Features Based on Location

Identifying your hotel's location (urban vs. suburban) will help you establish what type of grounds features your landscaping contractor can infuse.

If your hotel is located in a more rural setting, adding grounds features like ponds and pools, hardscapes, gazebos, and other foliage into the landscape are all elements that hoteliers can consider to create a relaxing environment for guests. On the other hand, if your hotel is located in an urbanized setting, hoteliers can still add grounds features like rooftop gardens, courtyards, and colorful foliage to enhance the guests' experience.

  • Hardscapes - Sidewalks, walkways, and footpaths, play an important role in the way high-traffic areas function. They help define the landscape's border, direct people to their preferred routes, and help guests enjoy amenities on the property. Hardscapes are also great opportunities to promote your hotel's brand message. If your brand message is about creating a relaxing environment and a place to escape, like Sandals resort or the Atlantis, subtle winding paths are a great way to lead guests to the pool and spa areas, as well as to the gardens and fountains areas.

    For upscale hotels, landscaping your hotel's pool in particular can turn the most basic pool and patio into an absolute oasis for your guests. In many cases, it's the pool's landscaping that delivers the real "wow" factor. Privacy, safety, beauty, and convenience are some of the key considerations any designer or landscaper needs to keep in mind when landscaping around swimming pools.

  • Plants and trees - Providing beauty and privacy around a swimming pool, plants soften the harsh lines of pool equipment helping them to blend more naturally with their surrounding environment. If you plants are grown tall enough, they will form privacy screens around the pool area. But choose your plants wisely: strive for low-maintenance plants that don't shed leaves or needles. Avoid fruit trees- not only are they messy, but the fruits attract bees. And as beautiful as flowers are, be aware that they, too, can be magnets for bees. Be aware of plants with invasive root systems that can damage a swimming pool over the years.

  • Potted Plants - The use of potted plants can transform the most lackluster area of an outdoor swimming pool. The power of these contained beauties is that they are totally portable. Be sure to water your potted plants more frequently as they tend to dry out faster due to environmental exposure. Cluster potted plants together to obtain the feel of a landscape bed, and utilize stands to combine various types of pots and plants.

  • Patios and Pool Decks - Providing not only beauty but safety for swimming pool areas, patio and pool decks provide a slip-resistant surface for guests using your swimming pool. If you opt for a brick patio instead, be sure to keep the surface of the bricks rough in texture. You'll have to periodically clean moss off of patios, but the effort will be offset by the safety benefits.

Seasonal Changes

Landscaping around the seasons is a great way to create a relaxing environment for guests. Guests have different expectations and attitudes during a winter versus a summer visit. Even if the hotel is located in a non-seasonal market like Florida, implementing holiday colored flowers (red and white flowers) combined with having other holiday accessories on the property is something that guests come to expect. For instance, if a family is vacationing over Christmas, holiday lights, a tree, or wreaths are all factors that contribute to the guests' holiday spirit.

Making a Plan

Before hoteliers can implement all of these different features, they need to work with their staff and landscaping contractor to establish a budget and create a maintenance schedule. The budget determines how the hotel will allocate funding for various parts of the property. If the hotel is on a limited landscaping budget they can still make guests feel comfortable and boost overall morale by focusing on investing in high-traffic areas-the areas on the property in which are the highest-visibility: the entryway, courtyards, gathering areas, and any areas visible from the street. For example, planting an array of colorful flowers and vegetation alongside front side guest entrances will help create a vibrant and aesthetically pleasing atmosphere.

If your hotel has signage that's visible from a major roadway, make sure that the sign is well lit and surrounded with beautiful landscaping. While investing in any type of flowers can be costly, be honest with your contractor about your budget so that they can offer a viable and affordable solution.

Unfortunately, many hotel professionals spend large sums of money on exterior features that guests don't ever see or use. For example, hotels have been known to build luxurious pools and outdoor bars that they think will appeal to their guests. But, unless a hotel is in a perpetually warm or tropical climate, these resources will go unused most of the year. These hotels would be better off investing in outdoor elements that could be used during most of the year, like walking paths or patios.

It's critical that the hotel remains clean and safe at all times. It will leave a bad taste in a guest's mouth if the hotel's grounds are dirty. That means trashcans cannot be overflowing, debris should be removed from the ground, etc. Collaborating with the hotel staff, and making a personalized plan/designated roles based off of the property's needs is the most effective way to mitigate this risk. In regards to the landscaping contractor and hotelier's relationship, they must create a year-round schedule to select the right foliage and set up a maintenance system that won't disrupt guests' experience. There's nothing worse than a lawn mower going off during an outdoor event or business conference.

There's plenty of planning that goes into creating the right environment for your guests. But by understanding their expectations and working with your grounds management team and landscaping contractor to create a year-round plan, you can ensure you're promoting a positive experience for each of your guests.

Ken Hutcheson is President of U.S. Lawns, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the ValleyCrest Landscape Companies. Mr. Hutcheson joined U.S. Lawns in 1995 and has grown the organization from a regional 18-franchise network to a national network of over 250-franchises in all 48 contiguous states. U.S. Lawns is nourished by the values and passion of family-owned and operated franchise businesses. Mr. Hutcheson champions an entrepreneurial spirit and a teamwork culture. He’s skilled at developing employee, franchisee and customer bases that are anchored on a commitment to long-term relationships. His focus on the company’s Franchise Development and Support is central to the company’s steady national expansion and consistently high rankings on industry lists. Mr. Hutcheson can be contacted at 407-246-1630 or khutcheson@uslawns.com Extended Bio...

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