More travellers than ever are making decisions based on hotels’ fitness and wellness offerings, realising that looking after their well-being is an effective way to regain control of their routines while on the road. But it’s only in the past couple of years that operators have recognised that the difference between an outdated gym, and a diverse and connected fitness programme, is increasingly going to mean the difference between success and failure.

Nearly three in four travellers have trouble maintaining their routine while away from home, according to a global study conducted by Westin in partnership with StudyLogic in 2017. It found that more than 60% of travellers say they sleep less, 65% say they exercise less and 15% report increased stress levels on the road.

A growing number of guests are therefore turning to wellness to regain control, feel happier and excel at business while travelling. At the same time, they’re adapting the way they exercise to suit their lives on the road, whether that’s through shorter, more intense workouts or on-demand digital fitness routines.

According to Hilton’s director of global brand wellness, Melissa Walker, this is something the hotel industry has only recently started catching on to.

“It’s been a complete 180° [change], even since I started at Hilton in early 2016,” she says.

“When I came to the organisation, people just weren’t thinking about wellness. They kind of knew their fitness centres were outdated, but owners and investors didn’t see that space as a revenue generator and there were limitations in what we could get them to do.”

In two years, it’s completely shifted. “Now, I think it’s not just our group that understands that this is extremely important to travellers, but also the people who own the hotels and are ultimately in charge of the purse strings,” Walker says. “They understand that the newer generations that are coming in are not going to stay in a hotel that doesn’t meet their needs, plain and simple.”

High design, high intensity

One of Walker’s first tasks when she was brought on board was to revitalise the layout of Hilton’s fitness centres. While the brand is well known for the consistency of its gyms – 20 years ago, it became one of the first major hotel companies to standardise its fitness offer – it hasn’t always kept pace with guests’ evolving workout demands.

“The biggest driver in how we’re designing the space differently now is based around the fact that people work out differently now,” Walker says. “I think some of the older generation were pigeonholed into thinking that if they couldn’t get an hour workout in, then it wasn’t worth it, whereas the millennials coming into the market understand that even a ten-minute workout has benefits and a high-intensity workout can make up for having a lack of time.”

In response, the new fitness centres being rolled out across the Hilton portfolio include much more open floor space, a functional zone that can be used for suspension and bodyweight training, a high-intensity training (HIT) zone where guests can jump between fast-paced cardio and weights, and a wider variety of fitness equipment than the traditional bulky treadmills and cross-trainers.

The millennials coming into the market understand that even a ten-minute workout has benefits and a high-intensity workout can make up for having a lack of time. – Melissa Walker

High design is important to today’s travellers, too, according to Brian Povinelli, senior vice-president and global brand leader for Westin. The signature WESTINWorkout fitness studios, which are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, are light, airy and boast some of the hotels’ best views. Meanwhile, Le Meridien is extending its mid-century modern design aesthetic to the fitness spaces across the brand’s 100 hotels. “This is, in part, because there is a growing global demand among business travellers for welldesigned, thoughtful spaces where they are spending their time,” he says.

As guests are now much more comfortable exercising in a digital environment, on-demand fitness options are also being rolled out at a growing number of hotels. While Hilton has partnered with WELLBEATS to offer virtual fitness classes in previously under-used movement studios, one of the most popular pieces of equipment at Westin is the commercial-grade Peloton bike, which provides its users with instant access to 14 live classes and 5,000 on-demand rides.

Beyond the four walls of the gym

During the process of redesigning Hilton’s fitness centres, Walker was also keen to draw stakeholders into a bigger conversation – about the fact that wellness doesn’t stop at the four walls of the hotel gym.

“If you peel back the layers of the onion, you have all these product points – the fitness centre, the spas and so on – but ultimately what you’re doing is creating an environment that meets a huge variety of needs and you can’t do that with just one space,” she says. “Does that mean that every hotel has to implement every concept we have? No. We look at each hotel and recommend customised offerings for each property. But I think what has changed is that we don’t just think about fitness in one way anymore.”

It’s a similar story at Westin, where Povinelli goes so far to say that the reason the brand has been able to differentiate itself in an increasingly crowded segment is because health and wellness stretches across six well-being pillars: Sleep Well, Eat Well, Move Well, Feel Well, Work Well and Play Well.

“These pillars, programmes and partnerships comprehensively address how wellness is integrated into consumers’ lives, no matter what their demographic or reason for travel,” he explains. “Given that well-being is so personal, we have created ways for guests to opt-in in whatever way meets their needs.”

This could be by exercising at a fitness studio, where the most popular pieces of equipment include the Peloton bikes and the TRX equipment that is currently being rolled out to the roughly 225 Westin hotels worldwide, or through the brand’s many community activities. These range from the RunWestin programme, where guests are led on three to five-mile group runs by one of the company’s 250-strong roster of Run Concierges, to the on-mountain boot camp at The Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort & Spa or the surf programme at The Westin in Los Angeles’ international airport.

Hilton, too, offers walking and running routes, some of them petfriendly, and last year unveiled its Five Feet to Fitness room. Like the wellness offer as a whole, this is designed to appeal to a wide range of demographics. “In 2016, we went out and talked to more than 20,000 Hilton guests about what they like and what we’re not offering that they think is important,” Walker says. “One in four of our guests said they wanted an inclusive fitness offering in-room.”

Five Feet to Fitness incorporates eleven different fitness products – from an indoor bike to a functional training station and even a meditation chair – all supported by a touch screen digital kiosk where guests can view equipment tutorials and follow guided workout routines.

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts has also responded to guests’ demand for private, convenient workout options. The signature Fitness Rooms for TRYP by Wyndham offer an exercise machine – treadmill, bike or elliptical – and a free workout kit, while Wingate by Wyndham has partnered with Men’s Fitness magazine to offer in-room instructional guides with body-weight workouts that don’t require added equipment. The brand also offers free expanded Wi-Fi and in-room casting – thanks to a partnership with Staycast, powered by Google Chromecast – so guests can bring their own digital workout routines and stream them to the TV.

Connecting the dots

Partnerships with technology and fitness companies have been integral to the development of all three groups’ fitness offerings. “These types of collaborations and partnerships are critical to staying relevant for guests, and offering something new and unique,” stresses Kate Ashton, senior vice-president of operations for TRYP by Wyndham.

These pillars, programmes and partnerships comprehensively address how wellness is integrated into consumers’ lives, no matter what their demographic or reason for travel. – Brian Povinelli

But with many apps, platforms and technologies designed to get smarter the more they get to know their users – such as Apple Health and Fitbit, for example – integrating the latest technology into a hotel experience, where guests might only be staying for 24 hours, can be tricky. “For us, it’s a balance of making it easy and leveraging great new programming that our guests desire, without introducing technology for technology’s sake,” says Povinelli.

More partnerships are certainly on the cards for Hilton, where Walker is particularly excited about using technology to start the conversation about wellness with guests before they arrive at their destination.

“When a guest is on a booking system, we know wellness is an important aspect of deciding where to stay and once they have decided where they’re going to stay, that’s when we should start interacting with them from the wellness perspective,” she says.

“That’s where we’re headed next – buttoning it all up and connecting all the dots. It’s not an easy task and it will require a lot of partnerships, but I think it’s going to be a game-changer for us.”

In the meantime, she’s excited that the hotel industry is finally coming around to her way of thinking. “I’ve been doing this for 22 years and it used to sometimes be so frustrating because people’s environments were the reason they couldn’t be successful,” she says.

“It’s such a key factor. Finally, across all sorts of building types, whether it’s commercial offices or hotels, people are starting to understand the larger role that infrastructure, urban planning, building design and programming have on helping people stay healthy.”