For a significant number of travelers, especially health conscious and exercise-minded individuals, having access to a fitness facility is of high priority when choosing accommodations.
Research conducted by Sheraton Hotels & Resorts Worldwide revealed that having a quality fitness facility onsite is important to about 62 percent of its consumers, says Hoyt Harper, global brand leader. The percentage of guests who actually end up using the workout facilities might be less, but at least they have peace of mind knowing the option exists.
Hilton Worldwide’s research also reflects that its guests care about having access to a range of first-rate fitness amenities during their stays, says Jodi Sullivan, senior director of global fitness.
When putting together the design concept for Home2 Suites, Hilton’s mid-tier extended-stay brand that launched earlier this year, the team looked at research gathered from its upscale extended-stay brand, Homewood Suites. Not surprisingly, having access to fitness and guest laundry facilities were both important to extended-stay travelers, says Dawn Koenig, vice president of brand performance support.
To stay competitive and meet or exceed guest expectations, hotel brands are developing updated options and new strategies for their fitness centers and programs. Here is a look at some of the latest initiatives from Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Worldwide, and Home2 Suites.
EMBRACING A HOLISTIC APPROACH
Sheraton Hotels & Resorts is on track to install Sheraton Fitness, programmed by Core Performance, property-wide by the end of 2011 as part of the brand’s $6 billion global revitalization. Sheraton Hotels and its owners are investing $120 million to roll out the program, which allows guests to use strategies developed by experts in pro-athlete training.
Core Performance, developed by Athletes’ Performance, which provides integrated performance training, nutrition, and physical therapy, formed its partnership with Sheraton in 2008. Founder Mark Verstegen designed for Sheraton guests a holistic program that is derived from the same training methodology used by professional athletes. The program helps travelers train and eat healthy on the road, as well as refresh, recharge, and refocus their minds and bodies. Harper says Sheraton made a commitment to embrace the program’s fundamentals of mindset, nutrition, movement, and recovery.
Life Fitness equips the fitness centers, which feature time-efficient training programs designed by Core Performance. Sister brand Westin offers the same equipment, adding a sense of familiarity for customers who stay at both brands. Harper says travelers have changed their stay behavior because of the fitness program and guest satisfaction scores and loyalty have increased.
The marriage between Sheraton and Core Performance extends beyond the hotel fitness facilities, and includes healthier dining menus, a Fit Meetings component, and online training at sheratonfitness.com, where guests can download workouts and follow programs at home and while traveling.
The Fit Meetings concept involves healthy breaks instead of loading up on sugars and caffeine, techniques to keep the mind and body sharp, and customizable group workout options.
For customers who prefer to work out in privacy, Sheraton has a gym-in-a-bag that can be delivered to their room. It includes workout cards, mat, foam rolls, resistance bands, and massage stick. Guest can also access four 30-minute Video on Demand workouts at no charge.
The philosophy focuses on achieving balance and engaging the core during everyday routines. Harper says that a typical bellman lifts more than 1,000 pounds per day, a housekeeper bends 16 times per room, and front desk associates might stand for five-and-a- half hours straight. When the core, abs, and back are not in sync, it can be cause for misery. This is why the brand also provides fitness tips to associates to make them feel better during the course of the day.
The first time Harper met Verstegen, the two were going on stage before 800 Starwood sales associates to discuss the new fitness program. “We literally just met, and he told me to get down and stretch with him,” Harper recalls. After 45 minutes of standing on stage, Verstegen told Harper he would start to feel discomfort in his lower back and want to sit down. “He convinced me that I needed to practice what I preached,” Harper says. So, he went to Versetgen’s facility, committed to a workout and nutrition program, lost more than 20 pounds, and continues to maintain his routine.
EQUIPPED WITH TECH-SAVVY OPTIONS
In July, Hilton Worldwide announced that its portfolio of hotels is outfitting more than 1,000 fitness centers around the world with new tech-savvy, customizable equipment options. The phased rollout will begin next year with approximately 300 full-service hotel fitness centers and continue through year-end 2012.
The fitness refresh also includes stretching, core and balance equipment, such as stability balls, stretch mats, medicine balls, and other fitness accessories.
While Hilton renewed its relationship with Precor as a fitness equipment supplier for Hilton Worldwide brands globally, its exclusive contract ended in March. The company has now also signed on with Life Fitness as an option at Hilton’s luxury and full-service brands globally, Star Trac at focused-service hotels globally, and Technogym at full-service and luxury properties outside of the United States.
Technology featured on the new equipment will include touchscreen consoles, iPod compatibility, ePub readers, pre-loaded sample exercises, Internet connectivity, integrated television, and personal TV screens with nearly 40 channels to choose from.
Sullivan says cardio equipment is always the number one choice for guests who use the fitness centers.
“We’re really looking at what is hot in the fitness industry, what is high tech but still easy to use, and what will exceed our guests’ expectations,” she says.
Many guests are looking for the ability to multitask while working out, to make the time pass by faster. That’s why touchscreen technology is a major component of Hilton’s next generation equipment. For instance, Precor’s Experience Series 880 line, available at luxury and full-service properties, features a new touchscreen console that allows guests easier access to controls and a variety of workouts. A piece of equipment from Life Fitness’ Signature Series strength line features a touchscreen console filled with sample exercises that can be done on the unit.
“We’re always looking at ways to create a motivating environment for guests,” Sullivan says.
Not only did Home2 Suites find that fitness and guest laundry facilities were on extended stay travelers’ top priority lists, the team learned that many guests wanted the ability to multitask while doing wash or at least a laundry room in closer proximity to the fitness center or lobby.
Koenig says the brand took these elements and designed Spin2 Cycle, an integrated fitness and guest laundry area adjacent to Home2 Suite’s open lobby area, called the Oasis.
In addition, there is seating in the laundry area for guests who want to hang out, not work out. Since there is complimentary WiFi, high-speed Internet throughout the hotel, they can also use their laptop or tablet as they wait. Guests who prefer to pass the time in the nearby Oasis can hop on a computer in the business zone or watch television.
Fitness area requirements for properties include two treadmills, an elliptical machine, recumbent bike, a set of dumbbells from 5 to 50 pounds, medicine balls in various weights, two stability balls, and mats for floor exercises, as well as two televisions, towels, water, and sanitizing wipes.
The minimum requirement for the laundry area is two washers, two dryers. Any location that would be significantly larger than the prototype in Fayetteville, N.C., which has 108 suites, would likely need to increase the number.
It’s also important to stay competitive in each unique market. For instance, the Latyon, Utah, property, which is located in a military market, recently upgraded its cardio equipment so each has a personal viewing screen.
In Baltimore, the property upgraded to a 60-inch television and added seating so that children could play video games on the big screen while waiting for their parents. Due to its urban location, the property wasn’t able to have the required outdoor walking trail, so they stepped it up in another area.
While it’s necessary to have a large fitness area with quality equipment from approved vendors Precor or Star Trac, Koenig says it’s not a brand requirement to have personal viewing screens on cardio machines.
Koenig says fitness centers are a big differentiator for travelers when making their booking decision. “If you were to stay somewhere for four nights, you start thinking, What do I normally do in my real home and how am I going to replicate that?”
For a one-night stay, guests might cheat on their exercise routine, but for 30 nights? Well, that just wouldn’t work out.