Benefits & Challenges of Self-Service Hotel Gyms


As featured in Hotel Executive
By Bryan Green, President, Advantage Fitness Products

For operators in the hospitality industry, it’s critical to gain a solid understanding of the fitness amenity and the specific benefits it may afford your guests.  Facility design, layout, and functionality are the foundation for this high demand offering.  Exercise is dynamic by definition and therefore the successful establishment of the fitness facility may bring challenges that are a bit unique from other areas of the property.  Given the increasing expectations of a well balanced fitness center by your guests, whatever the challenges may be, embracing them is the only option.

Usage rates for hotel/resort fitness centers have increased steadily; in turn increasing the priority that hotel operators are placing on these facilities as a source of both customer satisfaction and retention.  Let’s review some of the benefits and considerations that can make or break the success of a hospitality-based fitness facility & some of their corresponding challenges:

Spatial Planning
First and foremost, it’s critical that the fitness center layout affords enough space to accommodate the volume of end users. This is one of the most common miscalculations made in advance of construction and therefore existing properties must pay crucial attention to the right balance of equipment given these likely constraints. Guests that don’t have to wait in line for equipment when short on time for a meeting make for a happy traveler.  Whether due to poor availability of data or just inaccurate projections, operators consistently underestimate fitness center usage rates. In reality, due to so many fitness conscious and active-lifestyle consumers, usage rates are typically at anywhere from 15 to 20 percent (roughly one in five guests) at minimum. Typically those figures increase strongly when the property provides an inviting and well balanced offering in fitness.  Facility planning needs to anticipate this and accommodate it with the appropriate dimensions and layout. Further, equipment choices must take into account specific exercise demand and the anticipated amount of usage per station.  Consulting a fitness facility design and equipment specialist is highly recommended to stay current in terms of both trends and functional and special requirements.

Electrical and Entertainment “Feed” Placement
It’s important to anticipate and carefully chart the layout of electrical wiring and feed locations for the fitness center. Tearing up concrete to adjust an electrical layout or creating a tripping hazard with poor wire management are both non-desirable options. This has become an increasingly significant consideration with the rapid growth of fitness entertainment amenities.  Guests today expect personal viewing screens for their cardio, and ambient TV or music for their entertainment while strength training or stretching.  This also represents an additional marketing opportunities for the property to message many of the services and dining options available during the guest stay. An effective entertainment offering requires direct cable or satellite feeds to each and every treadmill or elliptical trainer that features personal audio or viewing screens. In planning for new development, if budget will be limited for extensive entertainment amenities immediately, customer demand will create the need to upgrade to these features at some point. Don’t limit your ability to adjust and make additions in the future. Anticipate and account for this possibility and avoid significant costs and business interruption if and when a decision to upgrade is made down the line.

The location of the fitness center within the greater confines of the entire facility is a valuable decision. Guest safety in terms of high visibility is also an important consideration.  If the trends continue to grow in fitness, then displaying your property’s investment in this sought after amenity makes a lot of sense.  Gone are the days where the fitness center can afford to appear as an afterthought or a simple conversion of a guest room or two — it’s no longer sufficient to simply procure equipment and place it in an un-featured room. If the room doesn’t promote activity, vitality and enthusiasm, usage rates and likely a percentage of the hotels repeat bookings will suffer considerably. No one wants to feel cramped or suffocated when exercising. Expanded floor space and ceiling heights, to increase air circulation and mobility, expansive windows that feature compelling views, and easy accessibility from anywhere within the facility are essential.  With individual exercise it’s well-known that motivation is a key factor to success. Make sure the fitness center is a place guests will want to have an experience in fitness.  The challenge of course is providing a premium level of real estate dedicated to an area that does not drive direct revenue.  The risk however in not doing so will undoubtedly reveal a half-hearted commitment to the space, and guests who view the fitness center as part of what they have paid for in their room rate will inevitably become disappointed. 

The dimensions and layout of the fitness center need to promote a safe environment for exercise. Keep in mind, a fitness center with all its activity and traffic can be a hotbed for potential accidents and liability nightmares. The importance of planning to reduce the odds of such problems cannot be over-emphasized. Sufficient room between strength stations and cardiovascular equipment will assist in the makings of an efficient traffic flow plan. Delineated areas for stretching and movement-based exercises will go a long way to increasing the safety of the environment and decreasing potential for accidents or liability exposure. Again, it’s also important to consider the location of the fitness center within the overall layout of the hotel/resort. For example, female guests in particular will appreciate a well lit, high-traffic location for the fitness center where they will feel safe and secure regardless of when they may choose to exercise.

Equipment Care
Well maintained equipment is essential to operating a self-service hotel gym.  It will not only reduce equipment down time, but increase the safety and operational experience for the guest.  It may also drastically increase the useful life of the facility equipment, in some cases as much as 60%.  Guests know when equipment has been well looked after both in terms of function as well as cleanliness.  Therefore, the benefits of a well maintained and cared for fitness center are quite clear.  However, effective equipment care must be provided by a factory certified technician.  Working with a local service provider that has been endorsed or recommended by the supplier of your equipment is important.  It’s also important to anticipate the need for ongoing care for any equipment before you make a purchase.  Regardless of brand, all fitness equipment requires service and will break at some point.  Therefore, look for equipment suppliers that also directly service what they sell versus outsourcing this vital support.  You will often not only achieve better rates, but gain a far higher degree of accountability from the supplier given the significant expenditure in equipment to be made.

These considerations only serve to scratch the surface of the myriad of details and considerations unique to a hotel based fitness facility. Hopefully, they will begin to equip you with some basics and ultimately, increase your attention to such details when approaching a hospitality development or re-development project.