"The great advantage of a hotel is that it is a great refuge from home life"; so said the influential Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw.

Few would disagree with the sentiment. Hotels have long served as a perfect platform for escapism, where guests can indulge in high comfort, with good food and drink – sometimes to excessive and bacchanal levels.

However, preferences change. Mirroring today’s health-conscious, gym-worshipping zeitgeist, the hospitality industry has been forced to do some strategic callisthenics of its own in a bid to attract this new breed of clientele.

This was emphasised at the 2013 Global Spa & Wellness Summit, held in New Delhi, India. Delegates in attendance from over 40 countries – who also witnessed a keynote speech from the Dalai Lama – appeared to be in firm unison that wellness and profitability make for natural bedfellows.

Take the following statistic, as recently reported by the independent research institute SRI International: wellness tourism accounts for 14% of world tourism expenditures. The figure is expected to grow by 9% on a yearly basis through to 2017 – 50% faster than "regular" tourism.

The spa or gym no long represents an ancillary or complimentary service for the guest experience. Instead, it is at its very core; consequently, several leading hotel groups have recently developed new brands around the notion of good health.

In 2012, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) unveiled plans for a new wellness-focused brand, EVEN hotels, aimed at facilitating a healthier lifestyle for guests on the road. The first two properties will open in early 2014 in Rockville, Maryland, and Norwalk, Connecticut, US; a further three are set to open their doors in New York in 2015.

EVEN, which is a mid-priced chain, was created as a result of large amounts of research by IHG, through which it identified a potential market of approximately 17 million travellers looking for hotels to accommodate their healthy lifestyles.

"Wellness tourism accounts for 14% of world tourism expenditures. The figure is expected to grow by 9% on a yearly basis through to 2017."

Shunning the bog-standard, cut-and-paste hotel gym – sometimes an uninspiring and limited affair – EVEN properties will consist of larger fitness centres, in the region of 1,200ft2, which are divided into three zones dedicated to cardio, strength training and mat exercises.

The rooms also double up as fitness suites, and include creative features such as coat racks-cum-pull-up bars and luggage racks that operate as workout benches. A wide selection of fitness equipment can also be rented on a library-style basis.

Premium fuel

IHG has also made a conscious effort to realign its menu for the new venture, comprising, unsurprisingly, of plenty of salads, as well as tapas-esque style portions.

Speaking to USA Today in December 2013, Adam Glickman, chief of the EVEN brand, explained: "Wellness isn’t a one-size-fits-all. It is not just about building a super gym or a small spa. Wellness is about balance".

Glickman makes a valid point. Today’s guests are on the lookout for wellness conditions that not only mirror those that they have grown accustomed to in their local gym or spa, but personalised facilities that can provide them with an even more advanced experience.

To ensure that the concept hits the ground running, IHG has also availed itself of the services of Athletic-Minded Traveler (AMT), a San Diego-based business dedicated to the wants of itinerant gym fanatics. As well as assisting with fitness strategies and programmes, AMT is also in the process of training staff.

"Through relationships such as the one with AMT, we have been able to create a brand that provides travellers the tools and resources they need to live healthier and happier everywhere," says Glickman, on the back of the announcement of the tie-up in February 2014.

Judging by the press coverage it continues to attract, the upcoming opening of EVEN is much anticipated. Yet, IHG isn’t the only player to dip its toe into salubrious waters. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide’s Element brand has performed strongly since its introduction in 2008 – today, its portfolio consists of 11 properties across the US and Canada. A Chinese property was announced last year.

Predicated on the mix of natural light, open spaces and healthy food options, Element’s list of amenities includes saline swimming pools, roomy fitness centres and spa-inspired bathrooms.

And, as testament to its ongoing success, in March of this year, Starwood announced its plan to build a second property in Miami – Element Miami Doral. Expected to open in July, the 139-room property is set to feature everything from a 24-hour fitness space and light-filled studies, to a bike-rental programme.

"The Element brand is cropping up in markets across North America, fuelled by the enthusiasm of travellers and developers who share the brand’s passion for clean, sustainable living," says Allison Reid, Starwood’s senior vice-president of North America Development. "With everything guests need for a life in balance, Element Miami Doral will provide an entirely fresh perspective on the extended stay experience."

Get well soon

In June 2013, Trump Hotel Collection also found itself in the spotlight with the launch of the Trump Wellness programme. The cross-brand initiative, focused on the three planks of food, fitness and accommodating the needs of road warriors, covers the workout gamut, including the free provision of yoga mats, weights and stretch bands for in-room exercise. A revamped menu is also inclusive of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free tastes, while nutritional information is supplied for each dish.

"With the recent feedback we’ve received from guests and insight we gleaned from members’ personal preference profiles as part of our Trump Card Privileges Program, we found that health and wellness is a huge priority for them," says Lisa Lavian, Trump’s corporate director of marketing.

"With that, we knew it was important to introduce Trump Wellness, a new brand-defining amenity programme that can continue to allow our guests to maintain their healthy lifestyles, even when they are away from home."

Appreciative of the growing popularity of yoga, it is also now not uncommon for hotels to hold classes, while in-room entertainment often offers yoga channels. Last year, Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at the First Residence went one step further, offering a specialised yoga retreat package.

"The spa or gym no long represents an ancillary or complimentary service for the guest experience. Instead, it is at its very core."

Aside from daily yoga sessions, hosted by British freediver Sara Campbell, the concept also included meditation workshops and classes, and spa treatments. Such was its success, the group will hold a similar retreat this year at Four Seasons Resort Bali.

Commenting on the popularity of wellness package deals, Damon Banks, director at New York-based group DMB Public Relations, says "We are seeing an increase in hotel packages incorporating fitness and nutrition, as it is becoming a very popular way to attract additional guests looking for more than just accommodation.

"When hotels bring experts to the property for these specialised retreats, it creates more intrigue and interest surrounding the exclusivity of these packages."

Going the distance

So far, 2014 has displayed little sign of healthy hospitality abating. Wyndham Hotel Group also recently announced the opening of a new 331-room hotel in Panama, which will join its wellness-centred TYRP portfolio, already prominent in Europe and the Americas.

Catering to business and leisure travellers, the property will feature a rooftop solarium and infinity pool, in addition to a fitness room with a Precor elliptical machine and complimentary workout gear.

While many players have successfully acclimatised to the needs of their hale and hearty patrons, last year’s Global Spa & Wellness Summit also brought to light some areas where hotels need to be wary, particularly when it comes to enhancing the spa experience.

Hotel spas presently account for around 16% of spas in operation across the globe. However, delegates, including Jeremy McCarthy, director of global spa development and operations at Starwood, and Anne McCall Wilson, former head of global spa operations at Fairmont Raffles Hotels International, argued that healthy hotels cannot rest on their laurels, and need to continue to adapt and innovate to attract a burgeoning customer base.

But, in line with the growing currency of wellness in everyday life, there seems little reason to doubt that operators will step up to the plate. The healthy hospitality sector looks set to remain in good shape for the foreseeable future.