How to combine luxury, experience and CSR with metropolitan meetings

When planning a luxury incentive or executive retreat, meeting professionals often default to places removed from the hustle and bustle of a metropolitan area. There is a lingering stigma that while urban hotels are obviously more convenient for transportation and provide easy access to convention centers, they may not have the high-end service and resources of a luxurious retreat or an environment as relaxing and desirable as those in those sprawling properties on a beach or golf course.

But urban resorts are now dispelling that myth—and thriving in big cities everywhere.

These urban oases hit the sweet spot with business travelers who want more than just a complimentary breakfast and meeting space. With authentic experiences and wellness treatments trending, urban hospitality has stepped up to provide all the luxury and curated activities of the isolated resort in their city settings. Yet the very fact of their metropolitan environment also allows them to easily do more than pamper—urban resorts are committed to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs that give back to the communities in which they operate. Meeting professionals can provide attendees with luxury, wellness and abundant meeting space alongside the rewarding experience of helping to serve the unmet needs found in every city.

 Best of Both Worlds

hotel rooftop pool
Pool, Hotel X Toronto

While resorts set in more remote areas have the space for large spas and fitness centers, they are removed from the culture, dining, people and nightlife of booming cities. Attendees may have that “I could be anywhere” feeling even as they are attending a work-related event. Urban resorts give freedom for those visiting the city to experience its personality, stay in the resort to take advantage of its fitness centers and spas—or both!  

Read More: CSR Fights Hunger

These resorts have become a new frontier for blending high-end facilities with urban experiences. Their compact footprint is a welcome challenge for Dipesh Gupta, co-chairman and CEO of Shashi Group, whose portfolio includes Shashi Hotel Mountain View, in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley.

two cruiser bikes
Complimentary Bikes, Shashi Hotel Mountain View

“Urban resorts are not built on eight acres or ten acres,” says Gupta. “The challenge was, how do you bring that resort experience within these constraints? I think that’s where the concept of ‘urban resort’ came to fruition—the opportunity to really design something above and beyond what most hotels are able to do.

“We really designed something which tailors to the customers and also speaks to the market,” says Gupta. “It has been extremely well received by Silicon Valley. We are rapidly penetrating the market as an independent urban resort.”

Brett Forshag, director of sales and marketing at The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa, agrees that the dual benefits of urban resorts create both relaxing escapes and exciting, fast-paced destinations.

“You really have the opportunity to mix what is traditional of a resort—relaxation, spread-out, beautiful surroundings, pools, unbelievable spas and workout clubs,” says Forshag. “But then you are also in the middle of the fourth-largest city in America. If you want to do something and branch out, you have the opportunity to do both. We’re in the best of both worlds.”

Authentic Experiences

As experiences have become increasingly important among professionals of all ages, business travelers—and meeting goers—are more eager than ever to venture outside of the hotel and familiarize themselves with the destination.

“Urban resorts embody the pulse and personality of their city in ways that isolated resorts cannot,” says Matt Black, director of marketing and revenue at Hotel X Toronto. “They offer immediate access to local culture, cuisine and entertainment, allowing guests to dive deep into the city’s life with ease.”

Sauna, Shashi Hotel Mountain View

While your typical luxury resorts may have golf carts or scooters to take you from green to green or from the lobby to an on-site restaurant, urban resorts provide travel options that allow visitors to choose their own adventure and explore the city on their own terms. For example, Shashi Hotel Mountain View provides guests with complimentary bikes to peddle to neighboring Shoreline Park with its 50-mile trail and a lake with options to kayak and sail, or cruise down to Shoreline Amphitheater or the Computer History Museum for some big-name entertainment and tech culture.

Promoting Inclusivity

One of the major benefits of resorts in urban environments is the undeniable ethnic, cultural and racial diversity that adds sizzle to city life. This kind of “everybody is welcome” mentality will promote attendee numbers and positive feedback from people of very different backgrounds.

“Urban resorts embody the pulse and personality of their city in ways that isolated resorts cannot. They offer immediate access to local culture, cuisine and entertainment, allowing guests to dive deep into the city’s life with ease.”

– Matt Black, director of marketing and revenue, Hotel X Toronto

“I think that’s really important,” says Black. “It’s going to boost a feeling of inclusivity and a sense of belonging. Anybody from any kind of background can find something they are ready to eat and somewhere they are ready to go to.

Read More: Breaking Tradition and Being Inclusive: A 2024 Meetings and Events Outlook

“That’s the benefit of being very close to a metropolitan city for visitors. If they don’t like something, they can go find it. It’s very easy to source things and make your conference or meeting very unique.”

Giving Back to the City

hotel terrace
The Houstonian Hotel

There’s an even bigger “why” to choose an urban resort than luxury and centralized location. Embedded in the DNA of many of them is a commitment to CSR and having a positive economic and social impact on the city and its people.

Food on the Table

Urban resorts don’t just feature a variety of cuisine; they use their culture of food to boost the local economy and help their neighbors.  

large lawn in front of house
The Manor House, The Houstonian Hotel

There are fabulous food options in any type of resort, but urban resorts give attendees the chance to taste the stew of cultures that flavor the culinary scene in large cities. Food is the universally loved vehicle to provide exploration, understanding and experience of an urban environment in all its nuances. For Forshag, for instance, there is one unique culinary fusion that is a must for guests of The Houstonian in any culinary exploration of the city.

Read More: Best Food Cities Across the Globe

“What we call it is ‘Tex Lex,'” says Forshag, a New Orleans native. “That’s in honor or in tribute to the cuisine of Louisiana, Texas and Mexico. Hence Tex Lex.

“This city is so diverse; every nationality is very well represented. The entire world is here in Houston, and you’ll see that prominently in the food through our city.”

The Houstonian’s food scene includes participating in major events like Houston Restaurant Week, an annual fundraiser for the Houston Food Bank, the largest food bank in America. By donating over 200 meals a year through this CSR initiative, the resort exemplifies how immersion into its city can nourish many more people than event attendees.

Literacy Programs

Some urban resorts reach beyond their own city or even their own country with CSR involvement. Hotel X Toronto has endorsed the international nonprofit organization Library in a Week. According to its website, this group is “dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty and bridging the digital divide by empowering some of the most under-served youths in the world through education and economic opportunity.” Black refers to this endorsement as “embodying our commitment to fostering education and literacy.”

Sustainability in the City

outdoor space with fireplace
Aman New York

Even surrounded by the traffic, neon lights and food waste of a major metropolitan city, urban resorts have dedicated themselves to the same sustainable practices one might expect to see in a secluded wellness retreat in nature.

Opened in 2022 in Manhattan, Aman New York is the newest addition to an urban resort collection that has championed its environmental sustainability and social responsibility practices since the brand’s inception in Phuket, Thailand, in 1988. These mindful values have not changed in one of the world’s most famous urban destinations.

With 35 hotels, the Aman brand has championed sustainability across the globe, and the New York location is no different. Earning an A-grade in the Building Energy Efficiency audit and earning the city’s highest score for reducing overall emissions, including water and energy waste, the Aman New York also practices green housekeeping solutions and sources catering ingredients from local suppliers with aligned ethical and environmental practices.

This article appears in the May 2024 issue. You can subscribe to the magazine here.