Managing Hygiene in Hospitality Based Fitness Centers

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


One might assume that the fitness center is likely among the healthiest places to be in a hotel or resort…or it could be the least. The virtues of providing your guests with a functional and well balanced fitness facility are plentiful and today well known. However, ensuring the safety of your guests while they use the facility goes beyond the simple maintenance of your fitness equipment.

Today, the threat of wide scale microbial contamination is greater than ever. The gym environment presents a natural breeding ground for these contaminants. Understanding what the risks are, and what can be done to create a hygiene friendly facility will help you comprehensively achieve a most healthy fitness experience for your guests.

What You Need to Know -
Bacteria in poorly maintained fitness facilities can spread disease. Antibiotic-resistant staph infections can be picked up from heavily used exercise equipment, stretching mats, and improperly disinfected toilets/locker rooms.

Skin based staph infections, including those caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, can spread through shared gym equipment, mats and towels. Infections tend to occur near a cut or scrape or body parts that my directly come into contact with infected surfaces. Astoundingly the CDC currently reports that MRSA now kills more people in the USA than AIDS. With 20-30 million Americans visiting fitness facilities of all types multiple times per week, it is incumbent upon operators to re-evaluate their cleaning and personal hygiene protocols.

MRSA is found on people and not naturally found in the environment. It reaches objects and surfaces outside the body if someone touches infected skin or certain areas of the body where these bacteria can live and then touches the object or surface. Another way that items can be contaminated with staph and MRSA is if they have direct contact with a person’s skin infection.

The best defense is good facility hygiene. Helping to remind guests to keep their hands clean, use a barrier like clothing or towels between them and any shared surfaces (like gym equipment) and shower immediately after activities that involve direct skin contact with others.

Disinfecting and Cleaning the Fitness Amenity
The specific challenge with the fitness facility is that common disinfectants and cleaning agents de-activate within as quickly as one hour after application, thereby leaving surfaces un-protected over 90% of the time in the absence of constant reapplication. As a general strategy, hand washing, personal bathing, and the wiping down of sweat should be a reminder to guests. Subtle but important signage must be created to reinforce these messages in fitness and indoor pool areas. Awareness is critical for facility participants, and not calling attention to this important health concern is by no means a strategy.

As a general rule, the hotel should triple up on its “general” cleaning and disinfecting procedures for the fitness area. Typically these areas are not large in comparison to lobby or conference facilities. However, scheduling more frequent inspections and attention will serve to keep both the facility clean as well as to visual demonstrate to guests that you have a strong commitment to this aspect of their care.

Planning For a Healthy Fitness Facility

Effective room design and planning are important in helping you more easily overcome the future challenges of operating a clean and health facility. The key is to allow for the facility to appear and remain germ free for longer intervals in between cleaning. When designing a new space or re-fitting an existing one, take steps to insure the facility remains easy to clean and engage your guests in keeping it that way. One of the most important steps to keeping a fitness center looking and smelling clean revolves around its floor coverings. It is highly recommended both for functional as well as hygienic perspective to utilize rubber flooring. Rubber is easily cleaned with powerful disinfectants and allows for a much quicker removal of sweat after guest use. Carpet is less functional, wears more quickly, and can become a haven for mildew and other bacteria to accumulate.

Ventilation systems are also an important aspect of the facility. Insure that HVAC systems have been designed specifically around the often moist and constricted airflow space that is fitness. Frequent replenishment of fresh air vs. recirculation is critical. Open windows or gain airflow naturally from the outside whenever possible.

Another basic but design oriented measure is to include a wash basis within the facility itself or adjacent via an easily accessible restroom. This will help to encourage and facilitate the frequent washing of hands before and after facility use. This single addition may increase the cleanliness of your facility by over 90%.

Give Your Guests Peace of Mind
It is also important to provide guests with other hygiene friendly tools that will help them feel empowered to participate in keeping themselves safe and the facility clean. Disaffecting Equipment Wipes are one of the most common and visually obvious items that can be made available via wall mounted or free standing dispensers. It’s important to select wipes that have been specifically formulated for the gym environment as they must be alcohol free to be used directly on fitness center equipment. Hand sanitizer dispensers that today are more generally found in all types of public areas are also encouraged.

Where possible, towel service is an excellent way to further encourage the wiping down of facility equipment after use. It suggests to guests that you understand their interest in placing a barrier between themselves and the last slew of users that might have worked out prior to the next visit from housekeeping. Towel sizes are commonly available today fabricated specifically for the type of use in fitness center, and do not need to be plush, nor oversized to be effective.

New Technology
With the emergence of “superbugs” and other scary contaminants, a handful of products have begun to reach the market that produce a residual effectiveness against these villains. However, several are methanol based and require that after each facility treatment, guests must be evacuated for 4-6 hours. This is obviously not always practical for the hospitality space. One manufacturer, Goldshield Med.LLC, has tested their water based formulary in leading hospitals worldwide and claims that in addition to its residual effectiveness, it provides a long term prophylactic protection. They recommend the use of their product for all fitness facility applications including schools, professional sports teams, and public fitness centers. Typically facilities must be treated one per month at a cost of approximately $1 per sq.ft. for smaller, hotel based areas. Facilities gain certification thus providing an ever greater level of demonstrated care and peace of mind for their visitors.

It is clear that no matter what the size of your fitness center, a commitment to a clean and hygienic facility is not optional. Through a series of steps and ongoing care, the hotel can effectively plan for the conditions that should be anticipated in a fitness center. Frequent cleaning and disinfection remain key. Providing guests with disposable measures such as wipes and hand sanitizer are simple but effective measures to extend awareness and eliminate germs at the root of their origin. Ultimately, creating awareness and visibility around your commitments here will enhance the perception you deliver to your guests and demonstrate your care for them in yet another very important way.