Categories Opinion Column

The Four Seasons of Experiential Design

Written By: Jesús Parrilla, Principal, Luxury Frontiers

Soft-adventure activities comprise an essential element to luxury leisure travel, especially for the off-grid, nature-based projects Luxury Frontiers is known for designing. Yet often times we are asked by tourism authorities, destination management agencies, hotel brands and operators, developers, landowners and investors to craft these outdoor activities essentially overnight.

As I have expressed in previous columns, there is general an unfamiliarity towards the rigors and sensitivity of experience design. Not only the natural, cultural, and historical environment needs to be leveraged to shape and develop activities that are meaningful, sensible, and contextually relevant, but also a critical consideration pertains to the seasonal climatic factors.

It goes without saying that nature-based travel and related outdoor activities are strongly influenced by the seasons. Climate conditions, in some destinations more than others, can greatly affect the physical environment, which is the basis of many outdoor activities in terms of management, quality and safety.

Outdoor adventure planners have a responsibility to understand the uncontrollable variables in the environments where our clients operate. Relevant conditions and impacts must be considered for risk management and activity programming. These conditions include variations in temperature and precipitation, extreme environmental hazards like wildfires or floods, flora and, fauna impacts among others. Moreover, we have a responsibility to outline and implement practices that address the principles of environmental sustainability.

Whilst most think of precipitation, high or low temperatures, snow or wind as serving to decrease the pleasure derived from outdoor activities, adventure designers think in a different dimension – the practically of running safe and fulfilling activities across different atmospheric conditions.

No two destinations are exactly alike. Therefore, in order to understand any particular destination, design activities, map trails, and prepare operational and emergency protocols, it is essential to experience the destination first-hand over a period of at least 12 months, coinciding with season cycles. For this reason, the adventure planner must be engaged at the outset of a project, when architects and designers begin their work.

Both the physical structure and the activities must consider the four seasons and how climate and weather – daylight, humidity, air temperature and pressure, wind speed, precipitation, snow, etc. may affect trail conditions, passageways, wadis, water streams, river crossings and thus impacting access and egress routes. All these elements can affect evacuation, if this is required, and ultimately the outdoor experience and the customer journey in any destination.

To illustrate how the seasons can affect the outdoor recreation activities, for example between winter and spring, in some destinations trekking during times of very wet conditions can have a major impact on trails and fragile ecosystems. In the summer months, one may need to consider carrying out outdoor activities earlier in the day than other periods of the year to avoid high mid-day temperatures. In the rainy season, alternative routes may have to be devised when rivers rise.

Additionally and as an integral part of the experiential design, during a prolonged period one can evaluate the behavior and dynamics of wildlife and flora throughout the year, with migratory wildlife sightings and periods of offspring and blooming providing an enhanced visit for guests.

Planning outdoor experiences from one day to the next can be tricky business, and when handled incorrectly can lead to critical omissions that can deem the activity unsafe, unfulfilling, or environmentally irresponsible. Therefore, understanding the seasonal weather changes is of equal importance to the outdoor experience as is understanding the destinations unique identity.

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