Developing Narratives for Themed Destinations

Brand immersion is not a new concept, but as the role of technology in our everyday lives grows, having a holistic hospitality brand is increasingly important. Cohesive brand narratives have the power to pull consumers away from their screens, encouraging them to communicate, socialize, and establish relationships with their favorite brands. As that experience takes place, the consumer’s emotional connection becomes stronger and longer-lasting, creating loyalty between the brand and the consumer. Developing these brand narratives—whether within entertainment, dining, retail, travel, or lodging markets—depends largely on the brand elements that already exist.

While some destinations are built around intangibles such as an attitude or “a state of mind,” others require only a few descriptive words to create the suspension of disbelief that transports guests to another world. For example, Margaritaville’s JWB Prime Steak and Seafood concept at Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort was inspired by the idea of an old Floridian cannery. That simple narrative came to life with custom artwork and aged hardwood, accented by a palette of rich blues, all of which recall the original inspiration in an elegant and subtle way. Moreover, the narrative informed the materiality and decor in a way that shares the restaurant’s story instead of shouting it—a factor that is essential when developing a theme for any type of destination.

Whether it’s a colorful waterside eatery or an intimate industrial steakhouse, destination concepts must be sustainable, flexible, interpretative, and evergreen—especially in a place where people will stay for days at a time. Common areas, amenities, entertainment venues, public facilities, and shared spaces need to encourage interaction and support the branded environment through design, configuration, or content, but they should not overdo it. Further, there needs to be cohesion that allows each of the brand elements to live harmoniously—not overwhelmingly—under one overarching “umbrella” concept.

This is especially important when designing extended-stay destinations that require more thoughtful narratives. The design at Great Wolf Lodge, for example, creates a context to cohesively bring together a cast of characters and stories under a single roof, blending space and sensory elements of the property to create an immersive experience.


To craft its final “story,” the brand worked with The McBride Company to develop characters and brainstormed the ways they interact. The chapters of that story combine to tell the tale of Great Wolf Lodge, beginning with, of course, the “introduction”—the arrival into the space. Key elements, or chapters, continue to tell a tale and blend together to develop the complete branded experience. The main “chapters” in this famous story focus on the designer’s toolkit—key design elements crafted to convey emotion and experience. From signage and color palette to materiality, each key element of the space reinforces the established narrative.

Properly combined, a successfully branded space encourages camaraderie and socializing, yet doesn’t force visitors to exist in a theme park environment. These immersive brand narratives are becoming increasingly popular and are beginning to bleed into a variety of different industries beyond hospitality. Retail, for example, has devolved into a volatile industry impacted by almost overnight changes in consumer loyalty and magnetism. Lifestyle brands will continue to drive experiential industries and consumer growth, changing their models to accommodate consumer wants and needs. As a result, designers are seeing a growing number of requests for retail spaces that offer their own branded identities.

These sorts of experiences will continue to permeate all aspects of our everyday lives, eventually working their way into our homes, as well.


About the Author
Ryan McBride is a creative director at The McBride Company. He founded McBride Sound Design, a branch of The McBride Company, which provides original music, editorial, and audio consultation services for a variety of media and physical environments. His experience in the entertainment industry positioned him to cross over into the world of physical destination design.


Top photo: Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort

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