Working Out What Guests Want

5th April 2006 (Last Updated April 5th, 2006 18:30)

Frequent travellers are increasingly concerned with being able to fit in a workout during their stay. Hotels therefore neglect their gym facilities at their peril. Nigel Ash looks at what the travelling businessman looks for in a hotel gymnasium.

Working Out What Guests Want

Dave Underhill travels regularly from the UK selling medical equipment. A non-smoking, modest-drinking, soft-spoken man, he is typical of a new breed of ferociously focused executives who not only enjoy being fit, but believe that their physical well-being is essential to their success at work.

When he arrives at his hotel after a flight, the first thing he does after unpacking is to tug on shorts, T-shirt and trainers, and head off down to the gym for 60 minutes of exercise – regardless of the hour. Some years ago, he found out for himself what recent medical research has confirmed: that a workout after a long flight markedly reduces the effects of jet lag.

Unfortunately, very few hotel gyms are open 24 hours a day and most are closed in the middle of the night. As a result, he often has to parlay the key off reception. If no key is forthcoming, he will take a jogging route map, if there is one, and set off on an outside run, for some good cardiovascular exercise that will reinvigorate his tired body.

“Properly trained gym staff will be vital in an increasingly litigious climate.”

His hotel bookings are generally made for him by his customers within his declared price range, but he always asks if possible for a property with workout facilities. It is becoming increasingly unusual for such a hotel to be unavailable, even if the gym is not yet being pushed as an important part of a property’s marketing strategy.

CLIENTELE DIFFICULT TO DEFINE

Unlike the rapidly re-emerging spa industry, which has been estimated to be worth $50 billion a year worldwide, one problem facing an ordinary hotel gym is the inability to organise users into groups. Each guest will have his or her routine and preferred range of equipment.

Newcomers to working out may have only the haziest idea of using equipment effectively and safely. It seems that very rarely do hotel staff check to see if someone heading off to an unmanned gym really knows what they are doing. “I’ve seen some crazily dangerous behaviour,” says Underhill. “It has also crossed my mind when I have been all alone in the gym, what would happen if I had an accident. It is not often that you see an alarm cord or button, even assuming that you are in a position to be able to reach it.”

As the number of users seems set to increase, properly trained gym staff will be vital, not simply for guest safety but also for insurance purposes in an increasingly litigious climate. These same professionals can also double up as instructors for the local fitness clubs, which provide an extra revenue stream, especially in the middle of the day, when most hotel guests will be out on business or sightseeing. Such attendants can also ensure that the equipment is safe and in good working order.

A guest who has gone to the trouble of changing into workout kit is not going to be happy to find treadmills that don’t work, or worse, barbells with no locks to secure weights. Underhill was lucky to escape serious injury in a hotel in Antalya, Turkey, when a treadmill on which he was running flat out suddenly stopped, causing him to launch himself straight at a wall. Gym attendants can also look after the physical security of several thousand dollars worth of equipment.

FOCUS ON THE GUESTS

InterContinental and other big groups are seeking to add value to stays by having every member of staff from the bellhop to the pool attendant focus more closely on what guests might want, as well as what they ask for. Underhill, working on fixed weights at the Swissotel in Beijing, was astonished when one of the two full-time attendants came over and offered to change the weights for him. This, coupled with the great size of the gymnasium and the excellence of its equipment, is why, in his experience, the Beijing Swissotel is far and away the best for anyone interested in health and fitness.

Some hotels, such as Westin, have not only upgraded their gymnasia but installed workout equipment in certain rooms. Westin has branded these the WestinWORKOUT rooms. The treadmills and exercise bikes can be used in conjunction with a special exercise DVD.

“Hotel guests are now able to fit in their regular exercise routines.”

According to Roeland Vos, president EMEA at Starwood Hotels and Resorts: “Two thirds of travellers want to work out while on the road, yet many of them don’t ever make it to the gym. So by offering both a gym and our regular WestinWORKOUT rooms, hotel guests are now able to fit in their regular exercise routines, with the added luxury of a private workout at any time.”

OTHER GUEST NEEDS

Though swimming is a powerful form of exercise, it is rare that hotels can offer pools that are of use to guests looking for strenuous exercise in the water. One problem is that most hotel pools are simply too small for an accomplished swimmer. And if an exerciser does manage to organise a suitable routine of lengths, it only takes the arrival or one or two more guests, intent on more leisurely swimming, to make the whole process impossible.

A final consideration is that most health-conscious guests are not particularly talkative when working out. They tend to focus on what they are doing and rarely say more to each other than to ask when a particular piece of equipment is going to be available. This may be the reason why some innovations, such as health juice bars near workout areas, have not seen great success.

The great difficulty for hotel management is that exercise is the most idiosyncratic activity a guest will undertake in the hotel. Only in a properly equipped gym will a guest be able to mix appropriate permutations of equipment to match their favoured routines.