Mr. Hutcheson

Eco-Friendly Practices

How to Create a Welcoming Landscape

By Ken Hutcheson, President, U.S. Lawns

Whether a guest is staying at your hotel for business or pleasure, their first impression can be a lasting one. Even before they walk into your hotel's lobby, they've already started to form their opinion of your hotel - whether that was based on a visit to your website or as they drove up to your hotel. Just as the messaging on your website helps to set expectations and provides your guests with a glimpse into your commitment to making their stay at your hotel an enjoyable one, so does the appearance of your landscape. Every touchpoint the guest has with your hotel impacts his or her customer experience, making it even more critical that those encounters reflect your brand.

As every hotelier knows, guests will notice even the smallest details. Did the overall look of the property match the expectations of the guest? That ties into the hotel's brand. Were there any areas that the guest could envision coming back to use on another visit for a different purpose - like a meeting, event, or even a wedding? That speaks to the overall functionality of the space. Was there an attractive mixture of plants in the beds? Were they pruned and maintained nicely, or did they look like they were dying? That's related to the overall aesthetic of the landscape. Were the parking lots clearly marked? Were the sidewalks free of debris and hazards? Were the walkways lit properly? Those are safety considerations that guests might not automatically look for when they enter a property, but they certainly notice them if there is something missing, wrong, or out of place.

While it is important to install attractive, functional and safe landscapes, it is imperative that they be maintained properly. This not only supports the hotel's brand but it also protects the investment that the hotelier has made on his or her landscape. General managers will often ask their grounds keeper for help with enhancements or improvements to their landscapes. But providing a welcoming landscape goes beyond putting a bow on a tree - it includes staying true to your hotel's brand, offering spaces that have more than one function, adding color to your landscape, and ensuring the safety of your guests. It can be the difference of turning a first-time guest into a repeat guest.

The following is a list of things to consider when making your hotel's landscape more welcoming for your guests.

Keep Your Hotel's Brand in Mind

It is important to align your landscape's design with your hotel's brand. Every hotel has a brand that communicates their standards, mission, and level of service to the public. For example, an inexpensive hotel located off the interstate, isn't likely to have an expansive green turf and colorful flowers at the porte-cochere. Nor will they have Chinese vases in the lobby. It's not who they are and it would send a mixed message to their guests. On the other hand, these are the types of things guests would expect at a more expensive hotel, and if they were missing, they would certainly be noticed. Staying true to your brand involves setting and maintaining your guests' expectations, and delivering a consistent brand experience for them.

Being consistent with your hotel's brand extends beyond what the hotel's website says and looks like - it includes the bed and the bedding in the rooms to every amenity your property offers. Just as your business travelers will notice if you provide them with more outlets in their rooms so they can charge their devices, they will also appreciate if there is a small outdoor work space where they can go for fresh air and a change of scenery. Not only should your property's landscape support your hotel's brand, but it should also improve the overall functionality of your hotel.

Increase the Functionality of Your Outdoor Space

When looking at areas that a grounds keeper can enhance, you should also consider what can make the area more functional. Your landscape team will make sure that the property looks crisp, clean and safe, but they will also want to help the hotelier with spaces that can be used for meetings, retreats, events, and other functions. This provides the guests with options for their current visit, as well as give ideas for future visits. Options include making the courtyard area a place where people could have a meeting or an outdoor wedding, or extending an area of turf for team building exercises like CrossFit training or a scavenger hunt. Adding plants to the pool area can not only make it more attractive and inviting, but also potentially appeal to guests who are planning a future event.

The grounds keeper wants to help the hotelier do well as we play an integral role in the hotel's success. But part of that role includes the responsibility of knowing what won't work for a property. If a hotel doesn't have a full-time events coordinator and they're not interested in hosting weddings and other events, investing in a dedicated outdoor entertainment area may not make sense for that hotel. Likewise, if your hotel caters mostly to business travelers who don't have a lot of time, creating something like a fitness trail on your property wouldn't be a good fit for your property either.

In addition to improving the functionality of your landscape, it is also important to keep the overall aesthetic attractive and colorful. It won't matter to your guests that you offer an outdoor space for weddings if it is unappealing.

Add Color to Your Exterior

Hoteliers rely on their grounds keepers to make recommendations for their landscapes based on their region, climate, topography, and as mentioned earlier, brand. What may work for a hotel in Florida is different than what we would recommend to a hotel in Georgia. Likewise, plant selection for the Days Inn would look completely different from what would be selected for the Ritz Carlton.

While perennials and shrubs last longer, they tend to offer little color and for shorter duration. Whereas annuals can offer more color, however temporary it may be. True annuals that have splashes of color during certain parts of the year such as crepe myrtle are a great option for certain regions, but they can't be planted everywhere. Another consideration is that plants can be rotated out when needed. This can help extend the life of the vegetation while also provide some flexibility when planning the landscape.

Just as it is important to balance the landscape's overall functionality and aesthetic, it is critical that they don't undermine the safety of your guests.

Don't Sacrifice Your Property's Safety for Décor

Whether your property is featuring holiday lights, new planters, or a temporary outdoor structure, these items should never compromise the safety of your guests. While it may be tempting to turn off the exterior lights to showcase the holiday lights, it can cause dark areas on your property, increasing your chances of a guest tripping or other risk management issues. Tall planters, shrubs and bushes should be avoided for the same reason. By selecting shorter planters and trimming bushes and hedges to a shorter height, you can increase visibility for your guests and ensure their personal safety while they are on your hotel's property.

Every hotel should have a risk management program that accounts for both the interior and exterior of the hotel. Inside the hotel, a hotelier must prevent issues like the unauthorized use of a guest's credit card to the theft of a guest's personal belongings. Whereas on the exterior of the hotel, the grounds care provider will work to ensure that everything is secured, handicap accessible, and pedestrian-friendly. If there is an outdoor area for a special event, the grounds keeper can create a pathway that will allow your guests to safely use it without being in danger of tripping over any hazards. Your grounds care maintenance provider can also include security sweeps when walking your property to ensure that there aren't any "danger zones" for your guests. Things that can pose a threat could be an overgrown tree that is now cutting into the light of a lamp post, making an area darker than it was the previous year. Another risk on your landscape could be irrigation heads that are not clearly identified - they could be a tripping hazard if the guests can't see them or if they are too high above the turf.

Your guests will decide if they want to stay at your hotel when they first pull up; if the landscape doesn't look attractive and it's not inviting, they can simply change their reservations. Today, travelers have more options and greater access to online reviews than ever before. In addition to seeing online ratings, there is also the ever-present word of mouth advertising. They will ultimately decide whether they will return to your hotel, and whether they will provide a favorable review or recommendation to their friends and colleagues. And as hoteliers know, those recommendations have a stronger rate of conversion than any ad campaign. By creating a welcoming landscape for your guests, you are ensuring that their first impression is a positive one.

Ken Hutcheson is President of U.S. Lawns. He joined the company 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 Please visit for more information. Extended Bio... retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

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