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«The 21st century faces new challenges in the relationship between travel and tourism, and sustainable development. The need to preserve the world’s ...»

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Rebecca A. Ellis, School of Marine Affairs, University of Washington

The 21st century faces new challenges in the relationship between travel and

tourism, and sustainable development. The need to preserve the world’s

inherent assets for future generations is imperative to sustaining the health of the planet. Tourism depends upon unspoiled, attractive destinations as economically sustainable products as well. Coastal tourism or hospitality products, such as destination resorts, directly impact natural and social environments in ways that promote instability in physical, biological and human dimensions.

Building capacity for sustainably managing the resources and cultures associated with idyllic seaside images requires commitments from each component of the tourism model—brokers, locals and tourists. Concerted management efforts must realize multiple needs, causes and effects of resourceuse uncovered by an intricate web of causality. To address only one issue may not effectively create positive change. Similarly, sustainable solutions to the production of tourism commodities, such as a coastal resort, involve a variety of institutions and persons that assist in its design, implementation and operation.

For example, coastal environments, which often host destination resort development, have many complexities within natural, social, and political dimensions. Promotion of a sustainable future in recognition of today’s economic growth policies and continued consumptive development practices can be greatly shaped by the creators of the built environment in coastal regions.

Sustainable design relies upon thorough planning, an integrated approach spanning disciplines and project phases, and a psyche of place-based or contextual development practice. As Vitruvius, the grandfather of architecture said in 110 B.C., “…we must at the outset take note of the countries and climates in which buildings are built.” An architect, or design professional, represents only one sector of the resort development process—a process that is driven by many concerns, objectives, timescales, and target markets. The role of the architect though, bound by its responsibilities and yet limitless with creative opportunity, is arguably the most potent for realizing sustainable design goals for hospitality design projects as an extension of ‘good’ or ‘responsible’ design practice. Sustainable design is not a new building style or series of criteria, but rather a holistic way of thinking about development that begins with a napkin sketch and continues through longterm operational practice. As the architect orchestrates much of the initial conceptual and built environment activity, he or she has the power to shape a site and therefore a destination resort experience, representing social, economic, environmental and experiential sustainability.

This study provides a guide to sustainable tourism development directed towards the architect and/or hospitality design professional. The destination resort project type represents a large-scale built environment that captures professional design input from Tourism Development Planners, Regional and Urban Planners, Site Planners and Landscape Architects, Architects, and Interior Architects as well as a variety of engineers, consultants, and clients. When the title of ‘architect’ appears within this study, it is meant to include any and all of these professionals as they impact a project’s design by manipulating existing spatial and experiential environments with built consequences.

As a study tool, a resort hotel “…is itself often a destination and by its nature must fit into and reflect its surroundings. A successful resort conveys a strong and prominent sense of place and celebrates the culture of its location” (McConough in Kliment 2001, 16). By its very nature, a destination resort seeks to capture, highlight, and capitalize upon contextual characteristics of a place and translate that into a touristic experience. To do so un-sustainably or acontextually creates false natural and built environments and recreates realities that can be both misleading to tourists and detrimental to local cultures.

Conclusions and recommendations to this study include the following theme:

destination resorts place the importance of site as an amenity equal to special services most commonly associated with luxury travel. Architects and design professionals have the greatest influence in affecting the site’s ultimate sustainability at the site design level. A small enclave of high-end bungalows on a motu in Bora Bora, for example, offers an ideal case study for minimal-impact resort development that is site-based in terms of its design focus, and site-based in terms of its luxury amenity. Preserving the natural environment is critical to sustaining a tourism product and therefore luxury and sustainability as development concepts must exist hand-in-hand. The marketability of such a destination demands that the project be ‘novel’ in terms of design approach and aesthetic, and such novelty or innovation can exist in the final product as well as the design process. For many successful luxury destination resorts relative to sustainable design, however, the key factor is the scale of the development footprint—a) a small-to-medium scale lodging requirement per structure, and b) minimal transportation and access infrastructure.

In contrast, however, the concept of luxury travel can alternatively mean a quest for high-profile or extremely public touristic lifestyles. In this case, a site is chosen or even newly created as a novelty itself. The footprint of development is large (if not ‘mega’) in scale and while exclusivity may mimic seclusion it still requires an intensive access and utilities infrastructure that completely alters the local context. Such examples of mega-destination resorts or multi-use developments can be seen throughout the Middle East and Pacific regions. For example, a resort and residential island in Dubai is being created in the form of a date palm tree adding 60 kilometers of new shoreline, all clearly visible from space. Such touristic models demand that design professionals begin even napkin sketches with commitments to contextuality and a vision of environmental, social, and cultural sustainability. This thesis seeks to provide the tools by which architects and design professionals in hospitality design are able to create destinations and experiences responsibly.

Constructing Destination Resorts in the Coastal Zone

As a ‘place’, a beachfront destination resort evokes images of resorts at the seaside with white sandy beaches lined with coconut palms and crystal-clear waters (Hüttche 2002, 1). Despite this rather universal image of the coast, the physical, ecological and social environments of the world’s coasts are constantly changing. Beaches in particular are vulnerable to erosion and modification: daily by tidal activity, seasonally by storm and hurricanes, and long-term by human development and global climatic changes (Molina et. al. 2001: 33). Such dynamics greatly restrict the area for waterfront construction and poses constant challenges in selecting a site, designing, and building destination resorts with social, ecological and financial responsibility.

Site design in coastal environments requires response to the above environmental constraints specifically by: a) minimizing risks from erosion (e.g.

wind, wave action, storms, and floods); b) establishing setbacks or restricted zones; c) developing design to complement natural conditions; and d) conserving natural environments (Molina et. al. 2001: 33). Built components of resort developments such as hotels, clubhouses, and residential structures contribute to erosion and storm hazards.

In addition, coastal wetland environments remain healthy only when development maintains the hydrological function of wetlands as a functioning marine and terrestrial habitat. Layout of golf courses and thoroughfares for access often cross or disconnect wetlands by filling areas needed for roads or golf course greens. Pier and dock design often requires minimum water depths and wetlands are dredged to accommodate. Many times congregating a community of docks or providing a concentrated marina area would lessen the impact upon the shoreline (Molina et. al 2001: 57). Finally, vegetation management and landscape design is integral to preserving coastal habitats and mitigating potential site erosion—while it also largely constructs a site’s sense of ‘place’ and a tourists’ perception of the local environment.

The perceived scenic integrity of a destination resort development is often a driver in creation of ‘new’ or constructed physical landscapes. For example, a client may wish to develop a French castle with manicured gardens and dense deciduous groves on a site in Egypt that borders the Sahara desert on one side and the Mediterranean coast on the other. A landscape designer might measure the scenic integrity of the site as poor—influenced by contextually negative human alterations, perhaps in poor visual condition, and often containing “…discordant and contrasting features such as geometric shapes resulting from vegetative treatment, structures that do not blend with their surroundings”, etc.

(Galliano and Loeffler 2000: 18).

As with the built-environment, the most ecologically ‘intact’ landscape or one with a high degree of scenic integrity may not always be what is most visually appealing or what is pre-conceived of a destination. Ultimately, these two factors create a potential disconnect between contextually sensitive design and a romanticized ideal of what the destination may offer a tourist. Natural-appearing landscapes require a thorough understanding of how healthy ecosystems function relative to a regional or site-specific destination. A responsible designer then combines this with desires, preferences, and expectations to create a visually appealing and marketable destination. As discussed previously, however, the resort design process involves many ‘desires, preferences, and expectations’ within the development team itself—all responding to marketing information relative to the desires, preferences, and expectations of potential tourists worldwide.

Sustainability vs. Luxury: An Inescapable Contradiction?

Inspiration for travel is a result of many psychological motivators that stimulate a tourist to experience contrast in search of fulfilling reward. Motivators may include such things as: a) relaxation, b) escape from everyday life, c) experiencing new cultures and destinations, d) jet-setting, and e) prestigeseeking1 (STAR 2003: 1). As there may be little differentiation between one destination resort’s setting and amenities from another, tourism brokers rely heavily upon these psychological motivators when creating their resort product by incorporating concepts that may be perceived as ‘added value’. Prestigeseeking, or indulging in perceived luxury, is arguably the most common attribute of a destination resort that adds marquee value to a resort product while having serious, realizable impact on product design, marketing and the behavior of the tourist relative to sustainability.

In the United States, economic tides have turned from the days of dot.com prosperity, the hospitality industry has faced several challenges pre-and postand a new perspective of luxury is reportedly emerging. The National Tour Association’s review of a survey conducted by American Demographics shows a new attitude toward luxury among mainstream consumers. “It is one that values substance over style and quality over conspicuous consumption…Today, luxury is more about the ability to realize one’s own passion, not brand-names— a departure from what many think about the desire for luxury” (STAR 2003: 2).

Economic Psychology of Travel and Tourism, John C. Crotts and W. Fred van Raaij, The Hawthorne Press Inc., 1994 in (STAR 2003: 1) With the proper tools for sustainable site design and embracing the concepts of ‘Rational’ and ‘Balanced Luxury’, physical development of the resort development site does not have to embody in itself a social construct. ‘Luxury’ is a path of consumer behavior and not fundamentally a design aesthetic, planning principle, nor program element. Luxury as defined outside of the bubble of ‘conspicuous consumption’ has the potential to add value to the integrity of a natural site and recognize responsibility to local culture, history and geography. While ‘luxury’ in many ways dominates the hospitality culture, applying sustainable practice to hospitality design in the realm of site design, development and construction can be a return to luxury that translates into necessity.


Hüttche, Carsten M. and Alan T. White, Ma. Monina M. Flores. 2002.

Sustainable Coastal Tourism handbook for the Philippines. Cebu City:

Coastal Resource Management Project, Department of Natural and Environmental Resources Galliano, Steven J. and Gary M. Loeffler. 2000. Scenery Assessment: Scenic Beauty at the Ecoregion Scale. Portland: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, General Technical Report PNW-GTR-472.

Gunn, Clare A. 1994. Tourism Planning: Basics, Concepts, Cases. Washington DC: Taylor & Francis.

Kliment, Stephen A. (ed.) 2001. Building Type Basics for Hospitality Facilities.

New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Miller, Marc L. and Rebecca A. Ellis. 2003. “Coastal Tourism Development in Incheon and Seattle.” Korea Observer. Seoul: The Institute of Korean Studies. Vol. 34, Number 3. pp509-534 Molina, Concepción and Rubinoff, Pamela, Carranza, Jorge. 2001. Guidelines for Low-Impact Tourism: Along the Coast of Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Amigos de Sian Ka’an A.C., Cancún, México and Coastal Resources Center, University of Rhode Island STAR Industry Report. 2003. “The Psychology of Travel – What is Luxury?” National Tour Association. [web] http://www.ntaonline.com/staticfiles/psychtravel_luxury.pdf Twitchell, James B. 2002. Living it Up: America’s Love Affair with Luxury.

New York: Simon & Schuster.

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