By: Laura Powell
Five-star luxury is no longer the exclusive domain of hotels and villas. The definition of luxury accommodations has expanded in scope in recent years, and now includes everything from converted shipping containers to geomestic domes to tricked-out tents, all complete with indoor plumbing. These fall under the banner of outdoor experiential hospitality, one of the fastest-growing phenomena in luxury travel.
There are plenty of advantages to having luxury accommodations without a permanent hotel. As previously reported in Skift, Luca Franco, founder and CEO of Luxury Frontiers, a design consultancy specializing in ultra-high-end tented camps, said that investors in tented projects, for example, can expect to generate 20 to 40 percent more in revenues than their high-end brick-and-mortar counterparts, and construction costs can be up to 50 percent less.
Highway West Vacations, a subsidiary of Fowler Property Acquisitions, has created the Flying Flags brand to capitalize on the profit potential and flexibility of outdoor experiential hospitality. The model is to provide a variety of alternative accommodations — from trailers to tents to tiny homes — in a single location. Meanwhile,Collective Retreats, a company that has been known for glamping tented accommodations in scenic locations around the United States, is about to introduce modular luxury suites as well.
Another company experimenting with a variety of lodging options is Collective Retreats, which started operating in 2015. The asset-light company doesn’t own any property. Instead the company strikes multiyear deals with landowners to place luxury glamping tents in picturesque places, including Governors Island and Hudson Valley in New York, Vail, Colorado, and Big Sky, Montana. Aside from the accommodations, each retreat offers full-service food and beverage, housekeeping, security, and 24-hour staffing.
Retreats currently feature two types of tents. Summit tents contain a king bed or two singles and have an en suite private bathroom. Journey tents fit a queen bed or two singles and share bathrooms. Later this summer, the company is adding individual modular units to its Governors Island location, marking a brand expansion beyond tents.
The so-called Outlook Shelters are 300-square-foot, custom-designed modular units with the amenities of a standard luxury hotel room, including design-forward interiors, private en suite bathroom with rain-style shower, and indoor and outdoor living spaces.
According to CEO Peter Mack, these “fully contained units will have a light footprint on the land.” Furthermore, he notes, they can be moved to other locations (as can the tents). So when certain areas close for the winter, there is the possibility of moving units to Collective Retreats’ warmer weather locations, like Texas Hill Country.
Mack, a former vice president of product design and innovation for Starwood Hotels & Resorts, said that the appeal of these types of alternative accommodations is creating a stronger connection to a location.
“I always had a strong feeling from those years working in hotels that the traditional hotel experience doesn’t authentically connect you to a place. Our brand is rooted in connections to other people, places, and themselves, as the accommodations are specifically located in areas we’ve curated. Because we’re doing things like tents and other mobile accommodations, we’re really able to take advantage of places where you can’t put a traditional hotel,” he said.
Mack and company continue to look into new types of accommodations that can fit the Collective Retreats mold, and although he considers Collective Retreats a hotel company, by providing alternative accommodations, “we become less of a commodity and more of an experiential opportunity for travelers.”