Resilient Hotel Design: Riding The Hurricane Wave In The Caribbean
January 17, 2018 Ricardo Álvarez-Díaz
resilient hotel design

Designing for Disaster Saves Lives and Money in the Long Run

Natural disasters cannot be prevented, but the damage they inflict on the hospitality industry can be mitigated through resilient design and adequate disaster preparedness. It is up to hotel owners and operators to take the necessary measures to safeguard their property and protect their guests, especially in regions prone to extreme weather patterns.

Resilient design can mitigate the destruction caused by natural disasters on infrastructure—buildings, roads, bridges, electrical grids, water supply, transportation, communications, natural resources, security, etc.—as well as disruption to business and delivery of basic services.

It is up to hotel owners and operators to take the necessary measures to safeguard their property and protect their guests

Resilient hotels are more likely to withstand natural and man-made disasters and recover rapidly from these events. Resilience not only benefits the properties themselves but also helps preserve the economy in disaster-prone areas such as the Caribbean, which depends heavily on revenue brought in by tourism.

Designing for Tropical Paradise and Tropical Disasters

Natural disasters have a way of revealing a city’s strengths and weaknesses in its infrastructure, politics, economy and social systems. A devastating 2017 Atlantic hurricane season has highlighted the need for resilient design in all construction sectors—residential, institutional and commercial.

In the Caribbean, tourism revolves around sunny beaches and water sports—a coveted tropical paradise. As a result, many hotels are waterfront properties that are vulnerable to tropical storms and hurricanes, whose winds and storm surges can cause considerable damage and prolonged business interruption.


Skilled architects can incorporate resilient design principles without sacrificing aesthetics, getting better and better at it with each disaster/adjustment cycle by analyzing the events themselves, the damage caused and the area’s response systems.

Stringent building codes, innovative construction techniques and resilient design strategies can significantly reduce the impact of extreme weather conditions common to the region and save money in the long run by protecting property from damage and allowing hotels to resume operations in a matter of days rather than weeks or months.

Skilled architects can incorporate resilient design principles without sacrificing aesthetics

Like sustainable design, resilient design can reduce long-term operational and maintenance costs and strengthen a hotel’s brand by making it more attractive to travelers, particularly during the height of the hurricane season from August through October. With resilient hotel design, everybody wins: the hotel owners and operators, the guests and the community.

resilient hotel design

Codes exist as a guide- but we should do more

Wind damage, water damage, fire, mold and loss of electricity and water can render a hotel out of service for months. Resilient design measures can do more than building codes do to shield properties from natural disasters and enhance their real estate values in highly vulnerable regions.

Resilient design measures can do more than building codes do to shield properties from natural disasters

Building codes are not always adequate, especially in changing environmental conditions. When developing hotels in the Caribbean, especially waterfront properties, architects, builders and hoteliers should keep disaster mitigation in mind and use new hurricane-proof materials and technology to fortify hotels against hurricane-force winds, flying debris, flooding and water damage.

There is no way around it: Properties developed in coveted locations need extra planning, construction, maintenance and expense to increase their resilience. Architects and builders should do their homework and learn from nearby hotels that have experienced severe weather events.

resilient hotel design

Resilient Hotel Design Benefits

Resilience has more to offer than protection from natural disasters and quick recovery.

Resilience Adds Value

To maintain these hotels over time, one needs to think long term and commit to strategies that will increase their chances of surviving severe weather conditions and increase in value. Investing in prevention measures both generate value and avoid catastrophic losses.

Resilience Helps Sustainability

Some of the design and construction choices that can improve a project’s sustainability and qualify if for LEED and other green-building certifications also add to its resilience. Multilayered impact-resistant windows, for example, protect a building from hurricane-force winds and projectiles while also saving energy and reducing power bills.

Resilience Boosts Branding

A resilient hotel that can continue to function through or recover quickly from a severe weather will be more attractive to travelers, especially after the 2017 hurricane season. Think of all the vacations, birthdays, weddings, boat trips, eco-adventures and business conventions that were ruined by hurricanes this year. Future travelers to the region will seek to minimize their loses.

Resilient hotels also are easier to market and sell—a plus in a highly competitive industry.

Wind- and impact-resistant glass, windows, framesResilience Features and Strategies

  • Poured-concrete floors, walls, columns
  • Super-insulated building envelopes
  • Glazed curtain walls
  • Metal facade panels
  • Operable windows for natural ventilation
  • Elevated lobbies and entrances
  • Underground utilities
  • Cisterns, water storage tanks
  • Desalination units
  • Graywater recycling
  • Flood sensors, flood control
  • Daylighting techniques
  • Emergency backup power generators, co-generators
  • Upper floor or rooftop installation of generators
  • Protective walls for generators
  • On-site underground fuel tank for generators
  • Fortification of cooling towers
  • Resilient landscaping, native and saltwater-tolerant plants
  • Shoreline protection

resilient hotel design

Resilient Design Impact on Tourism

Most of the Caribbean depends on tourism to keep a functional economy. As a matter of fact, tourism is a key driver of economic growth at a global scale, contributing 10.2 percent of the world’s gross domestic product in 2016, equivalent to about $7.6 trillion, and nearly 300 million jobs, or one in 10 jobs on the planet, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.

Our love for tropical paradises means that most of the tourism destinations in the Caribbean are severely exposed to extreme weather. A single hurricane can crush the economies of most Caribbean islands, especially those that rely on tourism as their primary source of income, by causing extensive physical damage and negatively affecting the image and reputation of these destinations, thus discouraging private and public investments in the tourism sector.

Unfortunately, many hotel owners and operators hold the government accountable for resilience efforts and the safety of tourists, focusing only on recovery and shelter. Not surprisingly, research shows that hotels that have experienced disasters are more likely to be more active in resilient design, disaster risk management and disaster preparedness. Must we always learn the hard way?

Sources: United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Urban Land Institute, Global Initiative on Disaster Risk Management, World Travel & Tourism Council.


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