Hotel Gyms: Fit for Purpose?
Lately, I’ve noticed conflicting evidence and opinion on the role of wellness and, in particular fitness,
to the success of travel and leisure brands. Let me summarise the debate.
For the motion, the hugely growing wellness sector and significant investments by high-end hotels in health and fitness suggest that hospitality and fitness are natural and common bedfellows.
The proposition is that luxury hotels and resorts should provide leading edge gym equipment and staff as a hygiene factor, as fundamental as a quality mattress to the customer experience.
On the other side, Hotel Brand Standards a study by the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research, published in February 2017, revealed that although 46 percent of guests intend to make use of hotel fitness facilities, only 22 percent actually did so. When you isolate the top echelons of luxury, the number of users dropped to 20 percent.
Despite these poor utilisation figures, CBRE Hotels Consulting argues that investment in top quality fitness facilities is now a “necessity” for all premium and luxury properties because guests require them as part of the standard set of hotel amenities. In support, a 2016 survey by MMGY Global finds that nearly 50 per cent of millennials are inclined to pick a hotel based on its ability to help them stay fit.
I would question both assertions and here’s why:
The latest UK fitness industry figures show that just 14 percent of Brits are gym members and that fewer still that actually use their memberships, visiting only twice a week. While the affluent (potential luxury hotel guests) may be more likely to be gym members than the average person, the Cornell data implies they are less likely to use it.
On this basis, there arises a triple argument that costly investment in a fitness centre produces a poor ROI for luxury hotel owners. First, your typical guest is unlikely to be a member of a gym at home; second, even if they are members, they won’t be habitual users and third, although their intentions seem to rise when away from home, the lure of the bar or a catching up on CNN over room service seems to best circuit training and repetitions.
Without a doubt, wellness is a mounting concern and exploding industry but in the context of all that noise, it’s also easy to miss the point that genuine fitness is a lifestyle choice adhered to by only a select group. Although most people understand the benefits of exercise and its contribution to general well-being, the average hotel guest is more likely to choose their hotel on the basis of free in-room internet access, price, location and the all-conquering loyalty programme (c.f. Hotel Brand Standards) than gym facilities.
All of which may go some way to explain why we gym addicts rarely fight over the treadmill when staying in a luxury hotel and why the brochure images of fitness centres are nearly always devoid of actual people taking exercise!
Fitness should be viewed no differently to any other lifestyle offering, whether it be hipster hangouts, authentic discovery, immersive community interaction or sustainability. The brands promoting these propositions target a carefully defined segment of travellers whom they know to be willing to pay more or to tolerate a tiny room or secondary location in order to consume a hospitality experience that aligns with their values.
Likewise, I believe that specialist fitness concepts, such as the one under development by Equinox, will be hugely successful. Not, however, because all millennials love to exercise or luxury guests think they should but because Equinox will be leveraging their own, hard-earned niche in the market. The appeal of Equinox will be to a self-selecting group of people for whom fitness and wellness are so important that it really is their primary factor in choosing a hotel. And on that basis, we can expect the rates of utilisation there to be statistic-busting and the ROI commensurate.
I will be queuing up to take a look at Equinox Hotels but equally I don’t expect most of my friends and colleagues, whose interests differ, to pay extra to have access to a world-class gym and classes they probably won’t use.
I believe that those of us that do pick hotels based on their fitness facilities remain a tiny fraction of the market and with a growing number of better qualified wellness operators entering the hospitality space, it will become increasingly difficult for pure hotel brands to vie for our loyalty.
These hotel brands should worry less about upgrading and investing in the newest and best fitness facilities and focus more on what makes them truly different, special and better.