Growth and Development of Resorts
The first resorts in the United States were developed in the mid 17 th century. They were small,
out of the way and very exclusive. Their focus was on service and relaxation and their market
was made up of the wealthy. Access was by horse and carriage and they were generally located
in the cool mountains or by warm or hot springs. Both offered a unique and "getaway"
NATURAL ATTRACTIONS AND GEOGRAPHY
The early resorts were really guest inns that were located by warm or hot springs. The resorts
took advantage of the perceived or real advantages of the medicinal possibilities of hot springs,
mineral springs, and even mud springs. Guests would come to partake of these experiences in a
relaxing atmosphere that included personal service and elaborate dining and social experiences.
Some early resorts merely offered the cool, clean mountain air and sunshine. The objective was
to getaway and indulge in something different and exclusive. Only the wealthy or socially
connected could afford such luxury.
With the advent of the railroad, many new resort locations became accessible. Resorts opened on
the beaches at Atlantic City, in the mountains at Sun Valley and Colorado, and the deserts of the
southwest. With the invention of air conditioning, railroads were expanded into Florida and
Georgia opening warm weather beach locations.
Resorts outside the United States developed as travelers wanted to experience other cultures and
locations different from their own. Mexico, Hawaii and the Caribbean offered different resort
experiences and when air transportation became affordable and convenient, these destinations
grew in popularity. In the 21st century, the world is accessible and increasing numbers of
travelers are looking for the way resort destinations that offer very different experiences than
those close at hand.
The combination of climate, natural attractions, and accessibility provided by new means of
transportation were the keys to resort development. One could not happen without the other.
The early resorts were accessible by horse and carriage, a journey that could take several days.
Very few people had the time and wealth to undertake such a journey and therefore very few
resorts were in operation before the development of the railroad. The growth of railroads was a
major event that enabled many new resorts to open. Railroads not only opened new destinations
for resorts but also made travel more affordable. As a result, more people could travel to more
The invention of the automobile by itself had a limited impact on resort development. However
when Henry Ford began mass production, more people could afford automobiles and therefore
could have access to resorts at a significantly lower expense. As more people had cars, more and
better roads were built and this lead again to more resorts being developed. A resort only
required a road and guests could now drive to a resort with flexibility of time and cost.
The airplane was the last significant transportation development that had a major impact on
resorts. As with the automobile, airplanes opened new locations and brought the time and cost
required to take a resort vacation down. Air travel opened the world to both group and pleasure
travelers. Resort travelers could now choose between driving to a weekend resort destination or
traveling by air to a more exotic or attractive resort destination. Hawaii, the Caribbean and the
South Pacific were no longer just dreams for many people.
While the main factors in the development of resorts were location and transportation, several
historical events slowed or changed the development of resorts. Most significant were wars and
economic cycles. The Civil War altered the resort experience by opening resorts up to all races
and ethnicities. This created an uncomfortable time frame for the North and the South as both the
nature of service and people staying at resorts was challenged and changed. This was particularly
challenging for resorts located in the South where slaves previously were part of providing the
services at resorts. It was unthinkable to have "Blacks or African/ Americans" now be able to
stay at these exclusive resorts. Also, many Northerners would no longer go to resorts that
continued to treat their service employees as slaves or would not permit them to stay in their
World Wars I and II had major impacts on resort travel. Countries that were ravaged by war were
off limits to most travel including pleasure travel. It often took years before travel returned to
normal levels and necessary repairs and restorations made to resort properties. Their could also
be a stigma attached to that country that would reduce or hinder resort travelers from visiting that
location. In addition, during times of war, people did not have the time or money to travel to
resorts. During the world wars, all efforts in the United States were geared to a war time
economy which totally changed business and pleasure travel. A resort experience was something
that was not acceptable to most given the war time atmosphere.
Economic cycles play a major role in resort development and activity. During recessions and
depressions, people did not have the ability to vacation at a resort. Travel was infrequent and
limited in cost and time. Conversely, during economic booms, wealth is created and more people
feel they have the time and money to vacation at a resort. They also can have the time and money
to take several resort vacations a year and visit new and exciting resort destinations. Because of
the high cost of resorts, high income or wealth are often prerequisites for a resort vacation.
We have mentioned many of these inventions in the preceding material. While they have been
primarily transportation oriented, there are several other inventions that have had a major impact
on resort development or operations.
The role of transportation in resort development has been the most influential of any aspect or
factor. Because most resorts in the early days or in modern times have been in distant or remote
locations, accessibility along with wealth have been major determinants of who could visit
resorts. Horse and carriages on dirt roads provided the start. Comfort was increased, time
decreased and more locations accessible with the advent of the railroad. Low cost automobiles
with paved roads provided the flexibility to drive to many more locations, again increasing
comfort and flexibility and decreasing time and cost. Finally, the airplane conquered oceans and
major distances while also reducing the time required to travel to these locations. As individual
wealth and the variety of resorts available increased, cost and travel time decreased. The result
was more resort destinations to choose from, more time to spend at the resorts, and less expense
This is also important because opened up new and different markets for resort travelers. Resort
alternatives expanded to include shorter weekend trips that were taken more often to
accommodate the work schedules of two income earners and the school schedules of children,
longer, more extensive vacations to distant resort destinations, family vacations verses adult
getaways, and the alternating between east and west coast, national and international, and even
warm weather/cold weather resort destinations.
One other major invention that should be mentioned is air conditioning. This invention had an
everlasting impact on resort travel because it was available in automobiles, at work and at home.
One of the major negatives of resort destinations was now minimized as high humidity and high
temperatures were now offset in indoor and travel situations. Guest rooms, lobbies, restaurants
and meeting spaces were now made comfortable year round. This enabled resorts to extend
seasons and improve the guest experience.
Other inventions have also helped resort travel but not to the degree of transportation or air
conditioning which were needs rather than wants. However sun screen and lotions, medical aids,
sports equipment, open air inventions or developments such as screens, portable windows and
walls, portable heaters, portable decorations, indoor/outdoor pools, and the coordination of all
travel needs including car rentals, lodging, transportation and recreation.
We will close by considering what inventions will influence resort travel in the future. It is only a
matter of time until a pleasure travel will be included in space ventures. What other resort
developments will occur in the future is only limited by mans ingenuity, the ability to pay for and
the availability of leisure time to pursue these resort activities.