Integrating Nature in Modern Wellness Environments

Integrating nature into hotel spa experiences is increasingly important as travelers now regard the spa not just as a place for momentary escape, but as a vehicle for recovery, reflection, renewal, and long-lasting transformation.

In addition to relaxation, travelers want to improve their mental well-being and overall health, creating opportunities for hotel spas to rethink the status quo and create more holistic experiences for guests.

Today, spas are functioning as fully integrated wellness destinations, combining mindfulness, opportunities for social gathering and exercise, and tailored treatments in environments that blur the boundary between indoors and outdoors.

While retreating to a hermetically sealed indoor spa may have fulfilled travelers’ past desires for self-pampering and relaxation, today’s travelers are craving physical activity to complement the spa and wellness experiences that connect them to the outdoors or blend nature with the built environment.

The physiological and psychological benefits associated with being in nature are well known. In April 2021, a review by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found from examining more than 40 experimental studies that exposure to outdoor environments reduces the stress hormone cortisol, lowers blood pressure, boosts immunity and executive function, and relieves chronic depression and anxiety. Bringing elements of nature into the hotel spa has a positive effect on guests’ mental and physical well-being and creates a more immersive experience that makes guests more likely to recommend the spa to family and friends, leading to increased repeat business.

Since the feel-good effect of nature is multi-sensorial – from the complex sounds we hear, to the colors, textures, and shapes we see in the natural world – we seek to introduce multi-sensorial spa experiences into hotel and resort environments that will elicit the mental, physical, and emotional benefits of time spent in nature. To accomplish this aim, the spa can be deconstructed into distinctive yet integrated wellness experiences that take place in separate structures connected by the outdoors, moving away from conditioned interior corridors with carpeted hallways.

We are applying this planning approach to the wellness offering for the flagship location for a new hospitality model in southern Utah, that will be composed of free-standing pavilions with extensive outdoor spaces rather than combining all facility components into one building mass.

Deep Immersion in Nature with an Added Social Dimension

This emerging brand is fully embracing the outdoor adventure and wellness travel trend through nature-based luxury travel experiences in remote wilderness settings. Within a private box canyon this full-service, small luxury resort will include a three-meal, farm-to-table restaurant, central lodge with common social areas, and a leading-edge wellness offering highlighting an outdoor bathhouse. The guest proposition affords countless opportunities for guests to explore the surrounding wilderness both on site and further afield, including curated excursions to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks and other guided adventures that are fully off the grid. Catering to those who want to travel more intentionally to renew their sense of wonder, the brand is set to develop a portfolio of properties in hidden gem destinations across the U.S. that speak to adventure mindsets across multiple generations.

The wellness ecosystem is designed to complement active movement and outdoor exploration on and off the property with a deliberately rustic yet refined ambience that dovetails with its spectacular natural setting. The spa and wellness compound will be a key component of this new hospitality model, where guests will find balance and connection in complete harmony with the feel-good effect of Mother Nature. The spa is arranged in an intuitive flow of indoor, outdoor, and blended spaces that blur the boundaries of the built environment. Nature is infused into every facet of the guest experience, with a processional entry garden that helps guests downshift from an overactive mindset to a softer focus where wellness thrives.

The changing rooms at the southern Utah location are residential in scale and sensibility, with plentiful natural light, fresh airflow, and direct connections to the outdoors. Circulation and transition spaces are protected from the elements but leverage natural light and ventilation. With less reliance on air-conditioning, they elicit a closer connection to nature that reinforces well-being. Each private treatment pavilion maintains its own dialogue with nature through retractable walls that connect to private viewing gardens with outdoor showers and soaking tubs, for a seamless al-fresco treatment experience. Flowing from the changing room, a blended indoor/outdoor bathhouse environment for contrast bathing provides an intimate and gender-specific setting against a backdrop of quiet serenity.

Flowing from gender-specific zones, an outdoor co-ed oasis of therapeutic pools and relaxation spaces is the anchor and defining essence of the wellness offering, where guests soak up the benefits of nature in spontaneous and self-directed fashion. Delivering a timeless and deliberately social experience, abundant hydrothermal amenities reinforce the communal sensibility and easy accessibility that harken to both the origins of spa culture and the underlying DNA of the brand. A shared passion for the outdoors and connection with nature draws guests together, inviting them to recover from active adventures, and connect with like-minded pursuits and practices.

Creating Adaptable Spaces and Year-Round Programming

The southern Utah project also illustrates how seasonal temperatures can shape service offerings and spark creativity with indoor and outdoor wellness programming. The outdoor bathhouse is designed as a seamless extension of the landscape, with the strategic use of roof coverings and retractable partitions for weather control and year-round access. The wellness compound is also designed to adapt itself to the natural rhythms of hot dry summers, cold winters and variable weather conditions throughout the year.

Nestled in the Finger Lakes, New York, Willowbrook Spa at The Lake House on Canandaigua is another expression of year-round adaptability and immersion in nature. Embracing its lakefront position during the cold winter months, the spa offers a heated pool and three private wood barrel saunas that provide immersive outdoor experiences with lakefront views, whether the landscape is bathed in warm sunlight or covered in snow.

Nature as a Conduit to Reset

Incorporating rest and recovery into wellness routines is part of a growing awareness that emphasizes the importance of balancing hectic and high-performance lifestyles with the recuperation of body and mind. Nature clearly illustrates that resting stages are essential to productivity, creativity, and maintaining optimal performance. Tapping into this holistic mindset, forward thinking hotel and resort spas are prioritizing more gathering spaces where guests can relax, reconnect, and regroup before or after a treatment and during their contrast bathing session. Embodying this mindset is Willowbrook Spa’s Sun Room, a generous lounge environment featuring an abundance of natural light, fresh airflow, and inspiring views and connecting to the Spa Garden, where guests can soak up the profound healing benefits of nature while amplifying their spa experience.

At a premier luxury resort in Southern California, our team recontextualized a traditional fitness lap pool into a hybrid experience which guests can utilize for a morning workout, enjoying downtime at an adults-only setting, or as a backdrop for social gatherings. The re-imagined pool area is an adaptable and vibrant amenity that supports both relaxation and recreation, providing an opportunity for guests and local members to recover from active pursuits, extend the spa experience, or connect with others in an open-air environment that mirrors the fabled indoor/outdoor SoCal lifestyle.

Chileno Bay Resort

In a similar vein, The Reflexology Pool at Chileno Bay Resort & Residences, Auberge Resorts Collection in Los Cabos – where THE WELL recently launched its first West Coast location – was conceived as a prelude or post-treatment experience, to complement the outdoor purification circuits that bookend this intentional setting. Conceived as a place for pause and personal reflection, The Reflexology Pool invites guests to recover and regroup in conjunction with a distinctive hydrotherapy feature designed according to the principles of sacred geometry that is interspersed with private cabanas nestled into the surrounding landscape.

Authored by Michael Lahm, Vice President, and COO, TLEE Spas + Wellness.
Originally created for and published on Hotel Executive as ‘Integrating Nature in Modern Wellness Environments.’