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How to Select a Site for Your Resort

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How do you choose the right site and create a compelling plan for your property? Here are some considerations that will help you prioritize potential sites to fit your vision.

Visibility, views and access

All savvy developers know that location is key. One of the first factors to consider is that travel of more than eight hours to a destination begins to erode the number of guests willing to make the journey. You want to weigh the magnetism of the site with the ease of access to it.

Alternatively, consider whether you can make the arrival so unique that an extended trip time is part of the experience. Six Senses Zhigy Bay, isolated along the high cliffs of Oman, has taken this to the extreme — you access via a 4×4 careening down the mountain; on a speedboat from the nearby port; or in tandem with a professional paraglider. Memory created!

Provision of amenities also plays into location selection. A property that is isolated and distant requires a development program and budget that includes restaurants, sports, activities, and all of the elements that will keep your guest fulfilled, on site.

Consider what each potential site may offer. What are the visual ‘wow’ moments of possible locations? Are views substantially obstructed or emphasized, and how does that impact your overall concept?

Regulatory issues

Almost every locale has defined building ordinances outlining allowable building height, density, massing, and minimum open space ratios. Most land parcels also have setbacks stepping in from all sides that may effectively reduce your buildable land area.

Be sure to look into land or air easements through, alongside, and above your site. If you have a beachfront site, there may be local obligations to provide public access and/or facilities, possibly impacting your buildable area and development costs. Flight paths, infrastructure right-of-ways, and water run-off channels can restrict your building height or footprint and compromise the otherwise ideal site plan solutions.

Energy and infrastructure

‘Off the beaten path’ often means that one of the basic infrastructure requirements is lacking: water, power, or sewage treatment. Depending on the intended size of your resort, it could be a small problem that gets addressed by smart design and specification, or it could bring a full stop to a particular site’s consideration.

On small islands, sites may be permitted for development, but the local water company may not have adequate service capacity.  Be sure to analyze the local power grid: In many well-developed international resort destinations, anything outside a city grid may have black-outs due to inadequate capacity size, an over-extended system, or poorly constructed distribution networks.

It’s critical to determine if your site is connected to a public or private sewage treatment facility. As groundwater tables rise and environmental regulations tighten, on-site solutions such as cisterns or leech fields are becoming increasingly prohibited.

If you’re looking at a small-scale resort, the potential for catchment, composting, and solar can go far to keep the experience of being isolated and idyllic, with relatively minor back-up capacity solutions still off the grid. But if your development scope is larger, an in-depth review of available infrastructure is a necessity prior to any land commitments.

Opportunities and constraints

It’s critical to physically go and listen to the land itself. While digital tools like Google Maps can provide an excellent visual representation, there is nothing that replaces seeing, feeling and experiencing a place in person. What are the sun and wind patterns?  Does the site have distinctly better views from a particular part of the property? What are great ‘found’ opportunities, and what are less desirable areas?

(Both provide insights into your site design.) Sloped sites, for example, are generally favorable for creating dramatically long vistas; the counterpoint is greater complexity in moving guests and support services around the property.

Your vision for the property

A critical step is to define the desired essence and aura of your resort. If you’re lucky, your development can incorporate unique elements from the locale. Case in point: the opportunity to feature cultural values in today’s development across Hawai‘i. On the flip side are the stringent archeological requirements of historically significant sites impacting both design and construction.

Some resorts have parlayed those restrictions into great experiences: Four Seasons Hualalai preserved a natural brackish-water pond where, purportedly, King Kamehameha’s wife used to bathe. Today, with only minimal modification for safety and the introduction of sea life that swims amongst the guests, the resort has very successfully repurposed what might have been considered a design liability into an exceptional once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Finally, be sure to align your site design and functional program to your development budget. If you can capture the essence of the site’s potential and make it work with your pro-forma financial statement, you’ve got a winner.

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