Hotels find new ways to incorporate fitness, wellness

As wellness goes from niche to normal, hotels worldwide are finding creative ways to implement the concept into every element of the guest experience, from initial design to daily operations. No longer reserved for exclusive spas, wellness now is incorporated into hotels up and down the chain scale, with millions invested in making healthy travel accessible to the masses.

The Value of Wellness

There is a clear value to this investment: At Wyndham Hotels & Resorts' 2018 brand conference, Danica Boyd, at the time the company's senior director of operations for full-service brands, said that health-conscious travelers spend as much as 130 percent more on hotel amenities than other guests.

The Global Wellness Institute echoed those sentiments, calculating the global spend on wellness tourism at $639.4 billion in 2017. More than that, the sector grew 6.5 percent per year from 2015 to 2017, more than twice the growth rate for general tourism. In 2017, international wellness tourists on average spent $1,528 per trip, 53 percent more than average. Domestic wellness travelers, meanwhile, spent $609 per trip, a full 178 percent more than the typical domestic tourist.

The Institute differentiates between two types of wellness travelers: those who travel specifically for wellness (primary) and those who simply want to remain healthy while on the road (secondary). This second group makes up the bulk of wellness tourism, accounting for 86 percent of expenditures in 2017. Secondary wellness tourism also grew faster than primary wellness tourism, at 10 percent compared to 8 percent per year from 2015 to 2017. “As more consumers incorporate wellness into their lifestyles, there are many opportunities for all businesses to infuse wellness into their offerings and capture spending by wellness travelers,” the Institute’s most recent executive summary claimed.

Hotels Adapt

In last year’s "Wellness-Themed vs. Wellness Hospitality" report from Horwath HTL, Ingo Schweder, founder and managing director of health and wellness at Horwath, cited specially furnished fitness guestrooms, concierges who focus on local jogging courses, healthy menus and cooking classes as just a few of the wellness initiatives hotel companies have launched.

“A lot of hotel chains are jumping onto the wellness wagon in order to cobrand or associate their products with wellness,” Schweder said. While this can be a positive trend in general, he cautioned that some businesses are using the term to appeal to a demographic rather than actually promoting something healthy. 

The Global Wellness Institute cited Marriott International’s upper-upscale Westin brand, which began focusing on wellness in 2011. The brand incorporated amenities like a health-focused breakfast, saline swimming pools, fitness centers, a bike-share program and electric vehicle charging stations, and later spent millions on a wellness-themed marketing campaign.

The efforts worked. Since shifting its focus to wellness, the brand’s revenue-per-available-room index grew almost eight points, said Brian Povinelli, Westin’s global brand leader. With 60 properties underway, he added, the brand’s development pipeline is the strongest it's been in almost a decade. “That market-share growth is really validation that what we're doing is resonating with consumers,” he said. “The development community wants to continue to build our brand, which is an endorsement that they believe what we're doing is paying off for them as well.” 

Last year, Westin partnered with high-tech workout bike company Peloton to put the company's bikes in guestrooms and fitness studios. “We hit on something there that reinforced the underlying premise of what we're trying to do with connecting people back to their wellness routines when they're on the road,” Povinelli said. “People who are fans of Peloton in their homes can now carry that experience through to the hotel stay.”

Hyatt’s Wellness Investment

Hyatt Hotels Corp. also has invested heavily in wellness over the past two years. The company followed its $215-million acquisition of the Miraval wellness resort brand in early 2017 with the purchase of the Exhale spa and fitness company later that summer. Through the deal, Hyatt is offering Exhale locations and programming at its hotels, and will help the spa brand itself grow with more freestanding locations. The company earmarked a further $160 million to expand its existing resorts and studios and open new Miraval resorts in Austin, Texas, in February and Lenox, Mass., in summer 2019.

Over the summer, Hyatt also revamped its upscale Hyatt Place brand to promote well-being. Guestrooms have been divided into different zones for sleeping, working and relaxing with updated mattresses, blackout shades and warm-colored lighting to improve sleep quality. The brand also expanded its fitness facilities, and the company launched Exhale-branded fitness and mindfulness video content through its mobile app. 

“Wellness does not need to be expensive, nor does it need to be luxurious,” said Mia Kyricos, SVP and global head of well-being at Hyatt, who helped Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide turn Westin into a wellness-focused brand back in the day. “In fact, for everyday consumers, it rarely is.” The key, Kyricos said, is to meet consumers where they are by providing ways for them to easily care for themselves in their daily routine wherever they go. 

Hilton’s Fitness Focus

In 2017, Hilton launched its Five Feet to Fitness guestroom concept, installing more than 11 different fitness equipment and accessory options in hotel rooms. All of the equipment, said Melissa Walker, Hilton’s senior director of global brand wellness, has been sourced to last for at least seven years.
Since the roll-out, the concept has been installed at 13 properties, including some of Hilton’s flagship-branded hotels, six DoubleTrees, an Embassy Suites hotel, a Garden Inn and a Homewood Suites, providing access across a range of price points. “We want to make sure that wellness is not seen as something that you only get to partake in if you are staying at a luxury property,” said Walker. “We want people to feel that they can achieve well-being at [all of our] brands.” 

Walker expects the Five Feet to Fitness rooms, priced at 20 percent above the normal room rates, to attract healthy returns for owners, although the profits may take a while to accrue in focused-service hotels where the premium is a smaller amount. “There won't be any brand that doesn't eventually make great money off the concept,” she said. “From an occupancy standpoint, there isn't going to be a lot of variability in terms of who wants to be in these rooms based across the different categories.”

Hilton also has incorporated wellness into other brands, including its midscale Tru brand, which has a large fitness center in each property. “We are approaching wellness like [we’ve approached] food and beverage for years,” Walker said. In other words—one size doesn’t fit all. Instead, she said, the team considers each hotel’s needs individually. “Let's figure out if they're a good candidate for an in-room experience. Let's look at their outdoor space. Let's look at off-property opportunities like walking and running and really come up with a menu of options that work for that hotel.”

The Future of Wellness

Wellness travel is only poised to grow, Povinelli predicted, and hotels will continue to adapt in order to stay ahead of guest demand. 

“I don’t think wellness is just food or a luxury bathroom or a fancy restaurant,” Schweder said. “Wellness is simply creating an environment in which you can relax, you can bond with others, you create a feeling of community of sense of being and sense of self, where you can learn. That doesn’t cost money. It is incredibly important that we don’t only sell wellness through a fancy meal that costs $100, but a simple meal grown on an organic farm—and the organic farm movement is huge.”

Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods, Schweder argued, is a “big sign” of the value of wellness, and Marriott’s AC Hotels and AccorHotels’ upscale 25Hours brand serve organic food in casual lobbies. “They attract a much larger public,” he said. “That is beautiful because that will ensure that more people, not only the elite, are touched by true wellness.”