The Friday Interview with Luca Franco

On hospitality, futuristic tents, and nature

We recently wrote about a new approach to boutique hotels. It also opened up the question of what travelers are going to be wanting when they are back out on the road. I interviewed Luca Franco (LF), who founded an interesting company called Luxury Frontiers. They work with a futuristic approach to tents and spaces, which bring guests closer to nature and the elements. He expounds on his approach, here. -Colin (CJN)

We're all familiar with rustic bush tents you'd see in Africa. What are you doing differently? 

Back in 2011, I noticed a shift starting in the way we perceive travel. People were becoming more interested in collecting experiences and memories rather than things and places. Luxury travel was becoming less about checking destinations off a list and staying in a nice hotel room and more about embarking on life-changing journeys in nature. 

So, Luxury Frontiers was founded with a simple objective in mind: To bring people closer to nature respectfully, without sacrificing sustainability or sophistication. We design contextually relevant, immersive hospitality structures that are sensitive to the natural environment and encourage nature-driven exploration. With our roots in the African safari experience, we are pushing the envelope of sustainable hotel design, empowering transformational guest journeys in destinations all over the world. 

We design upmarket tented camps, treetop suites, and light-on-earth building concepts without sacrificing a sense of place, comfort, or style. For our future projects, we are also creating meticulously scripted guided adventures hosted in and around our projects, which connects travelers with their environment even more. 

How is the experience different? 

While our heritage lies in African safari tents and sustainable hospitality structures in fragile environments, this is a concept we have taken to the global market.  We are experts in designing off-grid hospitality structures that inspire the soul in the most fundamental ways. Travelers embrace a good narrative; a well-told story that shares knowledge, encourages reflection, and maybe even broadens the mind. Genuine inspiration can come from many places: We work with a contextual narrative in mind and inspire our clients' guests through the activities we script and accommodations we design. 

What are travelers going to want coming out of COVID?

Travelers are craving nature. Open spaces and a sense of connection to the land and each other. The unstoppable pace of nature and its inherent sense of hope have resonated far more broadly over the last year. If the last decade was about transformational travel and meaningful journeys, the next ten years will be about purpose, returning to and enriching nature. In this new mindset, Luxury Frontiers is set to evolve by further elevating our biophilic design inspiration, which fosters beneficial connections between travelers and nature – engaging and stimulating them to embark on unfiltered adventures.

Humans spend 93% of their time indoors. Last year, this percentage temporarily came close to 100% due to the pandemic. If being in nature can enhance even the most mundane activities, surely designers have a responsibility to pull the natural world into the built environment. For us, design is not just window dressing. We design sustainably, involve local communities at every opportunity, and deliver a project that doesn't just appear light-on-earth, but functions in this way too.

What are the properties you're working on in the future?

We are working on projects spanning the globe from Mexico, Costa Rica, and Colombia to Southeast Asia and Saudi Arabia. I am thrilled about every one of them, especially projects on the west coast of Mexico, where we are working on revolutionary nature-driven concepts with some of the top global hospitality brands. I expect these projects to be absolute game-changers.  

How do environmental or local factors play into building your projects?

Luxury Frontiers isn't just about a beautiful physical structure. First, the architecture and design team explores the genius loci, local spirit, and environment of any site. We work to understand every aspect of a future project, including the destination's physical, geographical, and ecological aspects. This includes geology, water movement, terrain conditions, flora and fauna, cultural history, and community dynamics. We are particularly excited about opportunities to upskill local workers and employ their work or creations in our designs. In Zambia, we were recently able to work with local communities to deliver unique design features, such as the outdoor decks’ iron handrails which follow the special topographic lines of the site.

Is there a future for tented + modular or 3d printed designs? How will the impact on the land change?

Modular design elements are interesting, but we are more committed to organic and vernacular building techniques. Vernacular architecture refers to the local building techniques, designs, traditions, and materials specific to a certain region. We always study and consider the vernacular architecture of a region and look for inspiration and wisdom to incorporate into our designs, whether in form or function. We see incorporating vernacular techniques and materials, including bamboo, timber, and rammed earth, as a design approach that contributes to a true sense of place and character. Vernacular architecture lends itself to employ local artisans, which is a most welcome impact on local communities.    

You're on the road a lot. If you're not staying at a property you've worked on, what are the top-three hotels that you really love?

Amongst my favorite properties are NIHI Sumba in Indonesia and Singita lodges in Africa for their genuinely engaging and immersive guest journeys. Both are sustainable and deeply committed operators with values aligned with my travel goals; I love having life-defining moments with my family, but also want to contribute to a bigger purpose.  (LF

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Luca (LF)

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