How hotels bring wellness spaces outdoors

Dedicated outdoor spaces have become ubiquitous at urban hotels and sprawling resorts alike as travelers seek fresh air and sunshine—in other words, wellness—across the chain scales. At the same time, hotel spas have been taking advantage of this demand, extending their spaces beyond the four walls of the building.

Local Elements

Creating a space that can simultaneously promote relaxation and wellness as well as stand up to the elements can be somewhat of a balancing act—but using local materials can make things easier. The central courtyard at the Well & Being spa at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in Scottsdale, Ariz., was designed to evoke Arizona’s Havasupai Falls using indigenous sandstone, native plants and a real waterfall that can be incorporated into treatments. “It's so soothing, but yet it's also energizing to be under it,” said Pam Gilbert, the resort’s director of sales and marketing. The sandstone, she noted, has the same layered colors as Havasupai Falls.

Guests of the Lodge at Kukui’ula, part of the residential Kukui’ula resort community on the south shore of Kauai, Hawaii, can use the Hi`ilani Spa, which Nicholas Gold, the spa’s GM, estimates to be 65 percent outdoors. Much of the outdoor space, he said, was built with local lava rocks and indigenous hardwood like koa, which stand up “remarkably well” to the heat and humidity of the island. “It’s an amazing place for landscape design,” Gold said of the island. “Everything grows here.” 


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Related: Hilton promotes wellness with fitness-focused guestroom

At the Corinthia Palace Hotel & Spa in Malta, London-based design firm Goddard Littlefair is recreating the Athenaeum Spa. When the project is complete later this year, it will include a “secret garden” outdoor space meant to be a “Mediterranean oasis,” as Camilla Turner, senior creative designer at Goddard Littlefair, described it. “The garden was developed to encompass a Mediterranean way of life, celebrating a relaxed pace and overall indulgence in simple luxuries,” she said. “Once completed, the garden will deliver an authentic sense of place through an abundance of scented plantings nestled within vessels that have stood the test of time.” The space includes a pool with sun loungers and a juice bar.

Outdoor Logistics

The Hi`ilani Spa has outdoor showers, which Gold believes help promote relaxation. “However beautiful a locker room may be, you are still inside four walls, surrounded by people,” he said. Putting the shower in the middle of landscaping, he claimed is “almost an instant meditation, instant calming” that cannot be achieved indoors. 

Related: Defining wellness and well-being

Depending on the environment, outdoor spa treatments can be arranged with products hotels already have on hand. Mobile treatment tables can be brought outside and then back in again when the session is done, Gilbert suggested, and pool-style cabanas can provide shade (and privacy) for guests and therapists. “In some spas, what we've used is a sheer fabric, which gives a little more air and allows [breezes] to blow through the cabana,” said Michael Richman, founder/CEO, Academy Awning and Cabanas by Academy.

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