The Hotel Fitness Centre Must Change and Here's Why

Fitness centres have been a part of hotels for a long time — even when wooden rowing machines and leather medicine balls were cutting edge, and when people exercised politely in wool suits and dinner gowns. As the 20th century progressed, new machines and modalities were invented. A fair amount of clothing was shed, and hotels began to incorporate modern fitness concepts into their list of amenities.

But if we look at the average hotel fitness centre in 1990 and compare it with the average hotel fitness centre today, how much has really changed?

Today’s hotel fitness centres are often eerily silent and underused. In some cases, the machines are decades old and have fallen into disrepair. The space is cramped and ill-conceived. When a guest shows up to work out, it almost comes as a surprise.

And yet, there is no shortage of innovation when it comes to fitness (take for example, our post last week on ‘sweatworking’). Today’s health-conscious guest is interested in workouts that probably didn’t exist twenty years ago at least not in the mainstream. Many people are using smart technology to keep track of their fitness goals (even though recent studies suggest they don’t help). Generally speaking, health-conscious practices and mindsets are on the rise and constantly evolving.

So why do so many hotel fitness centres fall by the wayside? Is it worth it for hotels to pay more attention to their fitness centres?

The answer for most properties is going to be ‘yes’ — depending on the cost.

A proactive approach

The critical problem with so many hotel fitness centres is a lack of planning and expertise. It’s fairly obvious that a fitness centre should be informed by research, industry trends, and a practical schedule for maintenance and upgrades. But relatively few properties take this kind of proactive approach. A couple of treadmills and weight machines are brought into the space, a mirror and stereo installed, and things are generally left to run their course. Maintenance and upgrades are performed reactively, when something goes wrong. In this sense, hotels are more interested in maintaining the appearance of a gym, rather than creating a dynamic and responsive fitness amenity that guests love to use.

On the flip side, there are hotels that consult fitness specialists to guide the design and maintenance of the workout area. Machines are tuned up and swapped out regularly. Fitness trends are monitored and discussed in management meetings. Guest feedback is used to fine-tune the fitness experience. In some cases, a fitness-trained employee is stationed in the gym during regular hours to welcome guests and help with workouts.

In other words, there is strategy involved. The hotel fitness amenity is underpinned by research, reasoning — and yes, resources. Paying for upgrades is one of the biggest challenges of hotel fitness clubs today. We’re already operating on tight budgets. If running a high quality fitness centre requires consultants, maintenance visits and equipment upgrades, how realistic can it be?

On the other hand, we must ask ourselves how realistic it is to maintain a fitness centre that looks and feels dated. Guests might be keen to meet their fitness needs elsewhere — in which case, they might be less likely to use the hotel’s other amenities.

For many properties, there may not be any easy answer to the budget question. But it cannot hurt to seek real intel on the costs. Moreover, establishing an annual fitness centre budget is something relatively few hotels do — but maybe they should, especially as fitness becomes more important to guests in this century.

The entertainment factor

In case you haven’t noticed, people like to be entertained (or distracted, if you like) while burning calories. Some prefer inspirational music, a popular TV show, or even the daily news. Being on a treadmill or elliptical is like being on a commercial flight — the time passes more quickly when you’re absorbed in a program or playlist.

But the entertainment aspect of fitness is sorely lacking in many fitness centres. We’ve all seen rooms with one or two TV screens shared by everybody, or loud music dominating the communal airwaves.

Again, the question of finances comes into play. It may not be practical to run out and invest in treadmills with built-in entertainment consoles. However, there are more affordable options. The Discover line of tablet consoles by LifeFitness are much like the consoles we see on flights. Using a touch screen, guests select from a wide array of entertainment options, using dedicated headphones for audio. The best part is, the can be fitted to a huge variety of exercise machines.

Open space

Fitness trends come and go — but over the past decade, we’ve seen a steady increase in yoga, pilates, aerobic dance, and core training. For hotel fitness centres, this translates to a greater demand for open space.

The good news is that clearing out some of that underutilised equipment can actually improve your fitness centre. The bad news? Many fitness centres are tiny to begin with. Providing space for something like yoga and pilates, in addition to cardio and weight machines, may not be feasible without substantial renovations. Here again, seeking insight from a fitness expert (or even reading about fitness trends) can give you something real to consider.

It’s worth pointing out that companies and individuals who sell exercise equipment will have their own goals in mind. An objective fitness consultant is likely to give clearer insights into your fitness space.

If you do manage to clear some space, a complimentary yoga or pilates class three times a week is concept worth discussing. The number of people who practice yoga and pilates is still growing steadily, and given the chance to attend a free yoga class, many guests probably will.

Beyond the gym

As we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, many hotels are beginning to explore running tours, partnerships with local fitness teams, and other ways to expand fitness amenities beyond the hotel itself. Some properties have partnered with nearby gyms to make provisions for hotels guests. This is a great example of hotels asking the right questions: What fitness options do guests really want? How can we anticipate this want or need? And, do we really need to have it on site?

So what’s the answer?

In many cases, an antique gym with wooden rowing machines and leather medicine balls would be more intriguing than many of the bland, stuffy, cookie-cutter fitness rooms in operation today.

So the answer, while not entirely specific, is simple: Hotels need creative, deliberate, strategic strategies around the concept of guest fitness. As with our lobbies and business centres, it’s time to re-think this valuable space — because the truth is, we have as much to gain as our guests.

What are YOUR thoughts on hotel gyms? Do they factor into your decision making process? What would YOU like to see in your hotel's gym?

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