Hotels are working harder to help us stay fit on the road, reports Hannah Brandler.
We all know that life on the road can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle. Disrupted sleep, fast food and a fair bit of stress thrown in for good measure can affect everything from job performance to our personal wellbeing.
Meanwhile, wellness has become a buzzword. The wellness economy was valued at US$4.2 trillion in 2017 by the Global Wellness Institute, of which the travel market represents US$639 billion with a predicted growth of 7.5 per cent annually until 2022, making it the fastest-growing sector of global tourism. In response, hotels have launched a range of amenities and services, from in-room kit to ergonomic workstations and nutritional meal plans.
Before booking a hotel, do you check whether it has a fitness centre? According to the GBTA Business Traveller Sentiment Index 2019, 83 per cent of business travellers consider gyms or proximity to jogging paths when choosing a hotel. Travel management company CWT also found that hotel gyms were the most common way for business travellers to adhere to their wellness routines (49 per cent), followed by the use of in-room fitness equipment (27 per cent).
As hotel managers will tell you, however, their fitness centres are empty most of the day, making them an expensive and inefficient use of valuable real estate. To confirm this, a 2017 study by Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration found that hotel fitness amenities offered a low return on investment. And, as you’d guess, we overestimate how often we use the gym. Some 46 per cent of respondents intend to use them, but less than 22 per cent actually do, according to the study.
Emlyn Brown, vice-president of wellbeing for Accor’s luxury and upper upscale brands, agrees: “Cornell is right. If you create and design a space to be an amenity, put it in a basement and give it little attention, it will produce no ROI [return on investment].”
As a result, there has been a significant shift towards designing more attractive fitness areas with brighter rooms, more sophisticated and high-tech equipment, and partnerships with fitness brands. “These spaces can very easily become animated if the right approach is taken from a design and development perspective,” Brown says.
Select hotel groups across the US have chosen to partner with cycling fitness company Peloton, placing exercise bikes that stream workout videos in gyms and rooms. The move has been so popular that Peloton has a dedicated “hotel finder” website (hotelfinder.onepeloton.com), on which guests can also suggest potential hotel collaborations. Meanwhile, Fairmont and Westin have teamed up with fashion brands Reebok and New Balance to lend gym clothing and trainers to guests – helpful if you are travelling only with hand luggage.
Technology is also a key consideration for hotel groups, with on-demand exercise videos providing flexibility for guests. “If you want to work out at 3am because you’re jet lagged, you’ll still have access to that content,” Brown says.
Aside from this, there’s a need to engage the local community and take a leaf out of the likes of pay-by-class companies Barry’s Bootcamp and Soul Cycle. The huge 930 sqm gym at TWA Hotel, located in the former airline terminal at New York JFK, for instance, sells day passes and memberships to non-hotel guests – attractive if you have a long layover and your gym kit with you, unused from your hotel stay elsewhere.
Whether the trend for better fitness centres continues largely depends on whether hotel groups recoup the cost of providing these facilities. The Cornell report admits that its one-year results “might not be indicative of the long-term financial return on fitness centres”, which is why, presumably, hotels have continued to build them.
Accor’s Pullman brand, for instance, is introducing the first of its new Power Fit gyms in Paris next year, promising more attractive interior design, better lighting, more functional training areas and advanced technology, which it hopes will make it more attractive to guests.
The boundaries between fitness and hospitality also seem to be blurring, with hotel groups adding spa and wellness brands to their portfolios. In 2017, Hyatt acquired both the Miraval Group of wellness resorts and spas, and Exhale, a company offering boutique fitness classes and spa services, while Accor partnered with wellness-focused hotel brand Banyan Tree in 2016.
Likewise, US-based gym chains are expanding into the hospitality scene. Luxury gym brand Equinox opened a 212-room hotel in New York’s Hudson Yards development in July, and plans to open properties in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Seattle and Santa Clara in California in the coming years.
Here we round up some of the initiatives introduced by hotel brands to help guests meet their goals.
Hilton’s Five Feet to Fitness concept was launched in 2017 as “part traditional hotel room, part miniature fitness centre” and is available in Hilton Hotels and Resorts properties in New York, Texas, Illinois and Florida; Hilton plans to roll out the concept globally in more than 560 Doubletree by Hilton properties over the next two years.
The guestrooms have 11 pieces of equipment including weights, a cycling bike and TRX suspension straps, while a touchscreen display embedded in the room’s training rack provides more than 200 exercise tutorials. To ensure that other guests aren’t disturbed, floors have a protective surface with an extra soundproofing layer. Rooms have a meditation chair plus free hydrating drinks and bio-freeze gel packs to relieve muscle tension.
IHG’s luxury Kimpton brand has custom-designed bikes for complimentary use at all hotels, while each room has a yoga mat. Hotels also run fitness and wellness classes and provide healthy options on restaurant menus. On request, staff can perform a “Roll Out” service, in which they set up your mat, provide you with extra towels and flavoured water and activate the on-demand yoga channel on the TV.
IHG’s US-based Even brand has a “Where wellness is built in” slogan, so each hotel has a gym, and rooms come with fitness equipment, more than 18 workout videos, and ergonomic standing desks. Beds have eucalyptus linen and LED mood lighting headboards to improve sleep. Staff provide running routes and walking trails, while the hotels’ Cork and Kale Market and Bar focuses on healthy eating.
Marriott’s Westin brand allows you to book a Workout room in select hotels, which comes with hand weights, yoga accessories, a Peloton bike and medicine ball. All properties also have a state-of-the-art gym. The brand has partnered with TRX to stock its equipment in 200 hotels worldwide. The brand’s “gear lending programme” allows you to borrow New Balance gym wear for US$5 – the socks are new and yours to keep.
Westin’s Run Concierge – an on-site running expert – is available in most properties (18 in Europe) and suggests 3km and 8km running routes. Rooms provide a lavender and chamomile balm to rub on to your temples, the signature Heavenly bed designed for restorative sleep and a room-service menu with sleep-enhancing ingredients. The eco-friendly Element by Westin Hotels brand has 24-hour gyms and a “Bikes to Borrow” initiative for exploring on two wheels.
JW Marriott has teamed up with fitness expert Nora Tobin to provide a series of workout videos for guests, from yoga to high-intensity interval training. Ranging from three to 30 minutes in length, they are tailored to an array of fitness levels and can be found online or streamed in gyms at select hotels.
Pullman Hotels and Resorts
Accor’s Pullman brand has a programme in partnership with wellness coach Sarah Hoey. The hotels offer an “Active Breakfast” menu, designed for age defence, energy boost, balance and detox, with dairy-, sugar- and gluten-free selections.
A Youtube channel with Hoey’s seven-minute workout videos allows guests to follow routines in their rooms, including a short guide to gentle stretching and exercise, with a morning and evening routine provided for better sleep. Rooms also include a fitness bag, complete with weights and other workout equipment, and jogging map.
The Accor brand’s Vitality concept offers ideas for workouts on its website, while guests can order equipment to their room. Swissotel partnered with Wallpaper magazine in 2017 to create its Vitality room category, offering virtual classes on a screen built into a “Fitness wall”, energising snacks and drinks, and ergonomic furniture. The room also has an air purification system to cool you down after exercising, while circadian light is designed to help with jet lag. Each property has a jogging map with three levels. Available at Swissotel Zurich, the Stamford in Singapore and Swissotel Chicago, the brand plans to extend this to more hotels.
Tryp by Wyndham
Tryp offers both regular and fitness rooms at most of its properties. The latter include streaming facilities for following workouts, an in-room elliptical, exercise bike or treadmill, and a mat. Complimentary bottled water and extra towels are provided. There are also small gyms with two to six machines.