Hotels up their game for fitness conscious travelers

March 29, 2016
The hotel gyms of old featuring a couple of treadmills and a water fountain in a basement just won’t cut it for today’s increasingly fitness conscious traveler.

Whether they’re on a business trip or on holiday, a growing number of travelers are keen to keep up their workout regime away from home – and for many this means heading to the hotel gym.

Hotels, in turn, are aware of the need to cater for their lycra-clad guests: The number of hotels with fitness facilities jumped from 63 percent in 2004 to 84 percent in 2014, according to a study by the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Indeed, fitness offerings are fast becoming a way for hotels to edge ahead in a competitive marketplace.

“The space for hotel brands is becoming more and more crowded,” says Lauro Ferroni, Senior Vice President in JLL’s Hotels & Hospitality Group in the U.S. “In the last five years, major global chains such as Marriott, Hilton, Starwood and InterContinental have all added new brands—to the tune of a 25 percent growth rate in the number of distinct individual brands. There’s pressure to gain size; another week, another brand gets announced.” And some of these trends revolve around a fitness theme.

Whether you believe that 50 is the new 30 or you don’t, middle-aged travelers with disposable incomes like keeping fit, as do people who are actually in their 20s and 30s. Younger travelers who don’t wish to return home with a souvenir of a few extra pounds around the waistline often choose hotels based on fitness offerings, according to a 2015 survey conducted by MMGY Global, a travel and hotel marketing firm.

Meanwhile, rich American travelers are twice as likely as regular U.S. travelers to deem hotel fitness centers as being important, according to results from a 2016 U.S. Luxury Travel Report by Resonance. And wealthy Americans spend more than $390 billion a year on leisure travel alone—a figure which doesn’t even include business travel.

How fitness is taking shape in the hotel industry

Wealthy Americans aren’t the only group that craves fitness. “Resort hotels around the world are doing some really curated fitness packages that cater to seasoned travelers who now wish to have a rigorous fitness regimen with other like-minded guests,” says Ferroni.

In top hotels it’s not unusual to see celebrity trainers or running clubs that combine fitness with sightseeing. The James Hotel in New York and the Mondrian South Beach, for example, are just some of the hotels offering rooftop yoga. And London-based members fitness club Bodyism opened a “Clean & Lean” residency at D-Hotel Maris in Turkey, Capri Palace Hotel on the Italian Island of Capri, and Amilla Fushi Resort in the Maldives.

For guests who like to work up a sweat in private, some hotels have taken to providing fitness equipment in guest rooms. InterContinental Hotels Group opened its EVEN Hotel brand in 2014 in Connecticut. EVEN, a lifestyle hotel featuring a complete fitness and wellness experience with exercise equipment in guest rooms and organic meals in its restaurant, plans for continued growth throughout the United States.

Offering a fitness package

It’s not just about the facilities, however. Upscale hotel chain Westin, owned by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, teamed with Fitbit, makers of a wearable fitness device, to offer various fitness programs to guests through Fitbit’s personal app, FitStar. After a long travel session, guests can feel renewed and energized once they complete a 25-minute total-body workout—without ever leaving their room—using the FitStar app through the Stay Fit with Westin program.

Westin also lets guests order workout gear as they would room service under their Gear Lending With New Balance program. “This differentiates the hotel, but it remains difficult to really quantify how much value this adds,” says Ferroni who is looking at Equinox fitness clubs to see how their hospitality plan plays out.

Equinox plans to roll out a hospitality brand to capture the market for fitness travelers. The planned 2018 opening of the first hotel in New York will feature a 60,000 square-foot Equinox gym. “That’s pretty incredible when you consider that the average hotel gym is perhaps 1,000 square feet,” points out Ferroni. The company plans to open another hotel in Los Angeles, California, the next year, with a long-term goal of opening 75 such hotels around the world.

“There’s definitely a cohort of guests out there who would be happy to pay $20 to $30 or more to get a really good workout at a very nice gym,” says Ferroni.

Although it’s tough to quantify the return on investment with fitness offerings that are typically free amenities – as opposed to spa services that guests pay extra for – Ferroni believes it’s an area in which hotel brands are keeping a close eye on what their competitors are offering.

And with fitness becoming an important lifestyle choice for a growing number of travelers, the race is on to come up with new ideas to keep them feeling fit, healthy and at the top of their game during their stay.