A look at how outdoor spaces are being enhanced to support the P&Ls

More and more interior designers and luxury hotels are seeking inspiration from the shades and the moods of the season, creating breath-taking outdoor settings that are as soigné, luxurious and intimate as their in-door ones. The lines between the inside and the outside are increasingly blurred, as hoteliers and designers join hands to banish the banal and to elevate the luxury and the novelty experiences. Some hotels are lucky enough to be blessed with stunning out-doorsy views such as the JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Re-sort & Spa or Conrad Bengaluru’s Mediterranean restaurant, Tiamo, that overlooks the pretty Ulsoor Lake. The Imperial, in the heart of Delhi, balances its museum-like opulence with an inviting alfresco dining and sky-lit ceiling, like in The Atrium Tea Lounge. Master flourishes in outdoor areas include show kitchens, poolside decks with pretty cabanas that double up as bars and can be used for fashion and art pop-ups, and even movie nights. Many hotels, such as the Sheraton Hyderabad Hotel are using rooftops which offer 360-degree views of the city lights for networking cocktail evenings. With the creative designers ensuring that outdoor spaces do not have to sacrifice comfort, the hotel industry is capitalising on them to offer more facilities to guests, increase footfalls and boost busi-ness—a win-all amalgamation of aesthetics and purpose.

Jw Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove maximises the view of the Himalayas  in their outdoor dining areas. 

Waterfalls and sculptural fountains, multi-level terraces, rustic wood furnishings, walled gardens, glam fire spaces, collapsible ca-banas, decorative canopies, umbrellas to block the harsh sunlight, gorgeous foliage and panoramic views enable guests to connect with nature. Weather-proof furniture, moth-repellent scented can-dles, heating and cooling devisers along with bioclimatic interven-tions such as vegetation and water bodies ensures that the out-door statement areas are as comfortable as the indoors.

Shyam Kumar, Director - Operations, Conrad Bengaluru

Says Shyam Kumar, Director - Operations, Conrad Bengaluru, “Dining is an experience that appeals to the five senses, so it’s very important to create the right atmosphere. We have DJ nights and wine dinners on weekends at Tiamo, by the pool deck. One of our recent event, the Absolut Art Bar/Black and White paired evening, was attended by over 200 guests.” To deal with weather emergen-cies, the hotel adds blinds to the cabanas during monsoons and heaters for winters; summers are mild in Bengaluru.

The outdoor cabanas at Conrad Bengaluru are climate-ready for every season

Outdoor venues come in handy when a hotel is hosting big comevents. As Kumar says: “Multi-purpose outdoor areas are used to cater to larger events. Like, when a confer-ence is hosted inside the banquet, the outdoors are used for cocktails and private conversations.” Satellite pantries can be used for stacking equipment. However, he cautions, “Music is a challenge outdoors, so keep it to the basics.” What’s still unexplored outdoors, Kumar contends, are curated go-to-market experiences, masterclasses under the sky, kids activities, cock-tail evenings for breaks during MICE events, and several such. The under-utilised areas of the hotel such as the banquet porch can double up as a stage for performances. The return on investments, adds Kumar, "can range from a mark-up of 20-25 per cent, which is ideal”.

Manuj Ralhan, Hotel Manager, Four Seasons Hotel Bengaluru 

The Butterfly Garden and Ribbon Lawn are the best-kept secrets of the Four Seasons Hotel Bengaluru at Embassy One. The sunken poolside is lined with foliage, cascading wa-terbodies and cabanas. Manuj Ralhan, Hotel Manager, puts forth: “We have yet to explore the possibilities offered by the terrace on level four; it may be converted into a chef’s garden. Our executive chef, Stephane Calvet has a stash of seeds from his gardens in Chiang Mai.”

Four Seasons Hotel Bengaluru, at Embassy One 

Designing it Right

Space designers are focus-ing on regional expression with global appeal, seamless spaces, bioclimatic features, and aesthetics that have an outdoors appeal. As Rahul Shankhwalker, Partner, Studio HBA, contends: “It’s difficult to say where the indoors stop and outdoors start.” Akshat Bhat, Principal Architect, Architecture Discipline, who’s been involved with the make-over of the luxury suites at The Oberoi and the Oberoi Grand in Kolkata, says: “People feel happier sitting outside, embracing natural light and fresh air, so even if the backdrops are not great, as long as the air is clean, one can orchestrate a nice ambi-ence. Spaces that have a terrible context just end up becoming a smoking spot or a spot for the dump. The strategy is to create spaces where people would want to gather naturally. ” Here are some ideas:

• Mana Ranakpur in Udaipur valley has a huge existing tree on the site as a focal point. Views and movement are oriented towards this tree, like the tree-chaupal that provides shade to a communal gathering.

• Studio HBA has recently maxed out the outdoors at the Grand Park Kodhipparu Private Island Resort, Maldives. “We have been working on resorts that challenge the conventional guest room typology and instead call for rooms that have seamless indoor-outdoor connectivity,” says Shankhwalker. He recommends the use of natural materials, such as local stone, that is perfect for the climate. Indigenous and native plants offer ease of maintenance.

• Malcolm Daruwalla, Principal Architect, Seedle by DC Group, says rooftop lounges have a lot of scope for playing with the views, sound and the sky. “It is up to the designer to convert the problems and constraints of each site into opportunities for the new design,” he says.

• Architects Vivek Singh Rathore and Anuradha Rathore, Salient have designed the Amaya Holiday Inn Resort in Uluberia, spread across 12.5 acres — a luxury sanctuary that explores the relationship between man and nature, and Rajkutir, a bou-tique hotel in Kolkata, that uses elements of Bengal heritage design and craftsmanship. At Rajkutir, the courtyard is the focal point. The rectangle area is decked up with old-world fountains, vases and royal palms. The architect duo warns: “Indigenous plants should be chosen outdoors to offer a lo-cal flavour to the visitors, and for ease of maintenance. It is important to incorporate bioclimatic principles in architecture, among them daylight harvesting, natural ventilation of spaces, and material reuse, vintage and local sourcing.” Raj-kutir, the architects say, has been oriented south to facilitate air ventilation via an unrestricted wind movement. To harness diffused daylight and limit the use of artificial light, windows have been placed on both sides of the rooms. These strate-gies minimise resource consumption and reduce living costs.

• At Amaya Resort, thick plantations creates a large shadow zone outdoor, inviting people who want to relax outside. The position of the sun is important to note while designing out-door spaces.

Shalini Satish Kumar, Team Lead, Studio Lotus

• Shalini Satish Kumar, Team Lead, Studio Lotus, says it’s im-portant to select materials that age well, like outdoor grade timber for furniture. At Taj Theog, for instance, located in a mountainous tract with considerable temperature variation, they exercised sensitivity with regard to customer touch points, particularly outdoor furniture and upholstery. “A tim-ber decking by the poolside is a bad idea, because it doesn’t age well. Besides, plants that shed less are better suited to landscape outdoor spaces, for the simple reason of easy, clut-ter-free maintenance,” adds Kumar.

Tranforming 'dead' outdoor spaces

Sheraton Grand Bengaluru has converted its 'dead' outdoorsy spaces into statement areas, like the Art Café located on the sky-bridge that connects the hotel to the World Trade Centre, and the chic Alfresco by Bene, that serves classics and exciting dish-es from Bene, a specialty Italian restaurant with a contemporary twist. Says Sujeet Kumar, the general manager of the hotel: “Using unutilised spaces can create a direct impact on revenues, and in most cases, with negligible additional real estate costs. Such areas can also be used for retail offerings.”

The Atrium Tea Lounge, The Imperial, Delhi

Landscaped gardens are an effective intervention for spaces that don’t have views to die for. “Theme décor helps to create an impact,” adds Kumar. At night, the rooftop Persian Terrace diner offers an Arabian experience, right down to the decor, food and Middle Eastern music. Cabana structures, divans, bright linen up-holstery and candles create a mesmerising ambience for guests to enjoy the dining experience. He adds, “Turning around under-uti-lised spaces would reduce infrastructure expenditure. The space is already present and can be used as meeting areas, co-working spaces, for retail and independent F&B outlets.”Julian Ayers, General Manager, Hyatt Regency, Delhi says there is some merit in the view that bigger the outdoor space, the more potential is there to earn revenues. "The outdoors also offer perfect spots for conceptual and experiential dining such as grills, along with fun activities like pool parties and kids’ birthdays.” The hotel's China Kitchen Alfresco and the Café is an outdoor dining space. The poolside gardens are occasionally used for celebrations, and the pool bar offers signature cocktails with a continental menu served at the sundeck. The hotel’s design—high ceilings and large, frameless windows—ensures that it is flooded with natural daylight and offers views of the garden.

Julian Ayers, General Manager, Hyatt Regency, Delhi

Ayers points out that there are a number of challenges in man-aging outdoor F&B spaces. “Excessive heat, rain or even a drop in the temperature must be considered. In summer, people prefer 83indoors, so there’s a loss in business. We need to consider tents and cov-ers. Maintaining hygiene is more dif-ficult. Besides, there’s the problem of bugs and insects, and even after pest control, there is no guarantee that bugs won’t bother diners. The housekeeping requirement increases to at least thrice in a shift. Keeping the furniture clean and safe from the weather is another problem.” He agrees, though, that hotels are constantly elevating the experience for people who enjoy the outdoors and seek memorable moments and global cuisine. Amit Gulati, Banquet Manager at The Imperial, Delhi, says: “The Im-perial lawns, San Gimignano Lawns and the restaurant courtyards are a huge draw, and we usually associate with HNIs and UHNIs for corporate events, award shows and niche lux-ury weddings. The aim is to utilise the unique areas for the who’s who in the city and enhance the reper-toire. The focus is to effectively use the spaces while deploying the best energy-efficient practices. We do not commercialise the pool area.”Gulati says the outdoorsy views appeal to guests who are particular about the view of the room they are staying in. The seven acres space of Delhi,The Imperial includes breath-tak-ing gardens and dining courtyards adorned with splendid artworks, like the historic blue pillars at the 1911 Restaurant, making it an unmatched premium destination with unrivalled views. For smooth operations’ out-doors they have vendors to take care of technical glitches.

85The events and parties at the poolside at The Westin Hyderabad Mindspace is catered to by Prego, the hotel's Italian restaurant

Gulati adds: “The ambience evokes nostalgia and has elements of colonial as well as temple art. The Spice Route has an art-laden courtyard with sculptures sourced from Thailand and a Thai-style Khantok. The courtyard at San Gimignano has white canopies with warm sun-light in winters. The tea lounge, The  HIAtrium, has a sky-lit ceiling. Even at the swimming pool, we have canopies under which guests enjoy the sunny weather.” He says the return on investments depends on the scale of events they pick up and is relative to the expenses incurred.

The Manor, Delhi, has an al fresco seating in the lawns that are also used for yoga sessions, along with their Ayurveda partner, House of Ayurveda. “The outdoor spaces are available for corpo-rate and celebratory events, product launches, photo-shoots, ex-hibitions, cocktail parties, weddings and cultural events,” says Neil Kapoor, Director, The Manor.

Sheraton Hotel Hyderabad at Gachibowli, offers outdoor spaces as a premium venue at higher APC (Average per Cover). Syed Asad Guhar, Director - F&B, discloses: “We host theme-based events like Hawaiian-themed soirées by the poolside and leadership net-working cocktail evenings at the rooftop. Also, wellness-themed high-tea events complemented by yoga and Zumba workouts and movie nights at the rooftop are a few offbeat offerings.”

The outdoor deck at Hyatt Regency, Delhi

On a scale of 1-10, Guhar rates the view as 7; it elevates the din-ing experience, he avers. “However, if the view is not appealing, the décor and dining compensate for it. The outdoor furniture and equipment should be light-weight and suitable for all seasons. Par-tially shaded areas make the venues more flexible,” he adds.To reduce the environmental impact, Sheraton Hotel Hyderabad-has a compost machine that converts food waste into manure, while solar panels help to heat water. To boost sales, Guhar says he  would like to fit decorative canopies and cabanas on the rooftop.

Rahul Bhagat, F&B Director at Conrad Pune names the hotel's poolside lounge, Kabana, and the outdoor area at Coriander Kitchen, which has a water body, as their statement outdoor spaces. To capi-talise on the fantastic outdoors, they have hosted events such as fashion shows at the pool deck, signature sit-down dinners, Sunday sundown-ers, and promotions like charcoal grills with a variety of meats, called No Frills Just Grills. “We’ve had art exhibitions coupled with wine and cheese evenings, as well as birth-day celebrations,” he adds. “It is im-portant to have interesting views, though event companies readily convert dead spaces into attractive venues. Since people tend to come in groups, a lot of re-grouping of fur-niture is involved, so furniture needs to be lightweight. Handy umbrellas help to block harsh sunlight, and at night, the use of pest-deterrent aro-matic candles also helps.”

Bhagat adds that to access the outdoor spaces for banquet events, a premium is charged. “So, if somebody wants to do an event by the poolside, approximately the same value would be 40% higher.”AT The Westin Hyderabad, Mindspace, it is Prego, their Italian dining outlet, caters to the poolside area and helps in capitalising on banquets.

Kris Reynolds, Director - Sales and Marketing, The Westin Hyderabad Mindspace

The flexible space options help leverage the lawns and the poolside for larger functions, according to Kris Reynolds, Director, Sales and Marketing, The Westin Hyderabad, Mindspace. They recently hosted an Art Brunch in collaboration with Mahavir Motors, an authorised dealer of Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicles, in association with food writer and wine enthusiast Jyotiee Balani; artist Thota Laxmi-narayana demonstrated a live paint-ing on a Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Even minimalist designs can be comfortable and appealing for guests. With the introduction of some heaters and/or some fans, ho-tels can use the outdoors for almost three seasons—if not four—out of the entire year.

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