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Evolution of the Hotel Gym

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

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Over time, I have written that exercise and fitness by definition is dynamic and therefore the indoor facilities that provide such an offering in wellness in theory should themselves always be open to their own evolution. The Hotel Gym today can take on many looks. Limited service hotels that in yesteryear would rarely have considered the offering of such an amenity, today find themselves rapidly defining a space for fitness. Larger hotels and resorts for some time have made varying commitments to the fitness amenity. However, in some cases today, many can claim they rival a well equipment health club. The common denominator between these hospitality based environments remains their relevance and appeal to the guests they serve. When it comes to fitness, exercise trends for the most part will consistently carry through regardless of what level of property you are tasked with operating.

We have so much more data today about what guests actually look for it fitness while away from their home routines. In fact, we have blog after blog sharing with us what they liked most about a given facility or workout experience while on the road. In my experience, today there are three significant areas that remain top of mind for the majority of hotel guests. In no particular order of priority, these areas can be segmented into a facility’s balance in exercise offering, attention to hygiene, and finally its accessibility and availability. Not surprising, these elements are certainly extractions from what the average health club member might share as well. The difference here is; as with all things in the hospitality industry, the hotel fitness amenity has a much shorter window to get it right given the duration of the average guest stay.

The following review of these fundamentals will help you remain on point when it comes to the active care required to support the ongoing evolution of the hotel gym.

OFFERING WHAT YOUR GUESTS WANT TODAY:

Sure you have had a fitness center in place since the property opening. Perhaps you have even added to it or exchanged equipment over time. But on what basis do you determine when and how to make such adjustments? Do you have a process or partner in fitness for determining what facility layout and equipment profile is most appealing to your guests? Or, have you simply been swapping what you believe to be an updated model for the one before it that finally was costing far too much to repair?

Typically, most decisions in hospitality as they relate to fitness follow the path of budget availability and then reactive repair or replacement. The absence of an operating budget dedicated to fitness will often leave the operator in a poor position as critical preventative maintenance visits and the flexibility to adjust to industry trends are inevitably neglected. Further, when searching for new equipment, the balance of information received largely comes from the various sales reps that wish to gain your business. In most cases, good information is welcome information, although the source must always be tempered naturally. Today, there are many manufacturers producing good equipment. Ultimately the important question to answer is what products or services might you add to your facility today to achieve a greater impact towards guests experience or enthusiasm against investment that will be required.

Entertainment continues to drive what keeps people “stimulated” when using common cardiovascular equipment such as treadmills and crosstrainers. Studies have shown that 95% of those that use cardio equipment do not utilize programs or other features of the upper displays themselves. Netpulse™, a company that has created entertainment solutions for use on such equipment has certainly ceased such a trend. In addition to offering exercisers the ability to view live TV, the system allows for viewing of On-Demand programming such as music videos, movie previews, and even the latest episode of Survivor, much like the experience airline passengers are commonly receiving today.

Beyond entertainment, the system provides further engagement opportunities for both the guest as well as the facility operator. Exercisers can now easily track their workout data including time, calories, and exercise intensity and view this information in the leisure of their hotel room or when they return home via a free website. The hotel also may also gain strong benefit from implementing the Netpulse™ system as it too tracks usage data by each unit, as well as service outages. These indicators help to measure just what equipment is actually being used in the facility and often if repair is needed, a call can be made to the Hotel by an authorized service agent before the property is even aware they have a malfunctioning unit.

Beyond the elimination of boredom, guests also want to exercise in a less restricted or “uniform” way today than the way a hotel gym may have been traditionally structured. When it comes to strength training, single station fitness equipment has its place, but ultimately exercisers today want to utilize products that provide a wider accommodation of their body types and equally importantly, their exercise preferences. Functional Training, Yoga, Mat Pilates, and balance and core strengthening movements are in far greater demand today. These modalities require free space, a concept that the typical hotel gym may not easily accommodate without some adjustment to its floor plan. The good news is that often through a simple re-layout of the space, and even potentially the extraction of equipment, can immediately improve the “functionality” of the space and accommodate more of the movement based exercise demands of today’s guest.

Leading fitness accessory manufacturers such as SKLZ™ and SPRI® products are focused on these trends. A healthy offering of exercise mats, stability balls, foam rollers for stretching and core movement are simple and inexpensive ways to provide many of the tools your guests will seek today. A space within the exercise facility should be set aside for these floor based movements, and safely enough that heavy equipment use does not conflict with this open area. Ideally, a space separated by partition or even a separate room for group or private exercise movement would be preferable.

HOW CLEAN IS YOUR GYM?

Little about your facility is as important as a hygiene friendly workout environment to your guests. A fitness center is a living, breathing space, continuously affected by a higher level of wear and tear. MRSA and other pathogens consistently find their way into the fitness center. Germ evasion techniques are on the minds of travelers today and since providing comfort while away from home is the benchmark of the hospitality industry, there is no reason to stop at the gym. Show them you know cleanliness is a big issue while visiting the fitness facility. Good ventilation, natural light (when possible), and towel service instantly set the stage for a safe and healthy workout experience.

As the impact of maintaining a super clean and fresh smelling space should not be underestimated, guests must also see it to believe it. Meaning, providing visible stations of self-service equipment wipe dispensers and hand sanitizers are an important way to show your attention to this top of mind health matter for your guests. Subsequently, you are also empowering your guests to participate themselves in the process of upkeep as well as their personal safety.

Contec™ is one such company that has dedicated a suite of products built around the particular needs of the gym. Their Athetix line of products offers both pre-saturated wipes as well as wall mounted hand sanitizer dispensers with a solution base that claims to be 99.9% effective against MSRSA and Staff. Providing peace of mind to exercisers is critical and these products as well as regularly scheduled cleaning intervals; typically at a rate of roughly triple that of other public space within the hotel, are simply essential.

MAINTAINING THE BUILDING BLOCKS FOR A SUCCESSFUL FITNESS AMENITY:

You’re in the gym “business” to some degree whether you like it or not. However, many properties give you the feeling that although they want to say they have a great gym, they almost hope guests don’t really want to use it and actually put it to the test. Perhaps this stems from a natural fear or lack of confidence in knowing exactly what they are offering their visitors. Foundationally, an annual review of the space and its functional layout will help insure that whatever the offering in fitness is, it will at least have consistent and measured appeal to your guests.

My suggestion for building the right foundation for the fitness amenity is simple; if you’re going to do it, do it right. The trick is that you have to stay committed to supporting the space. I recognize in today’s budget constricted environment, this as with other facility support obligations, presents some challenge. However, if your guests continue to tell you that fitness is an important part of their stay, one must continue to prioritize the degree of commitment and corresponding financial earmark placed towards the fitness amenity.

Revisiting the layout of your space is an important operational exercise as discussed early to insure its functional relevancy for today’s use. Certainly equally as important is to insure that equipment remains spaced appropriately for safety and other risk management concerns. You may be surprised how guests seeking a better view or wishing to exercise in a manner particular to their needs at the moment may feel emboldened to “rearrange” one or more pieces of equipment. Naturally, this is an unwelcome practice, but by virtue of what is likely a limited or completely unsupervised area, your staff will generally only be able to deal with it after the fact. Further, if there is not strong staff adherence to your floor plan, equipment moves such as this may go unnoticed for some time, or worse expose the facility to wire tripping hazards, a lack of ADA compliance, or simply other guest dissatisfaction. Working with a competent facility design expert can help insure your facility in not only relevant out of the gates, but stays that way.

Creating happy and relaxed guests after a positive exercise experiences may well yield a greater participation in other on property offerings such as restaurants, gift shops, or maybe just less complaints! One thing is for sure, the demand for a safe, clean, and current fitness center remains stronger than ever and the dynamics of such continue to evolve. Good planning and basic budget provision will help drive confidence in your staff as it relates to what you are offering your guests in fitness. An ongoing relationship with an experienced operational fitness consultancy will also help insure that your facility is able to keep reasonable pace with the ever-changing world of fitness.