Woman riding Wattbike in hotel room"

This hotel room turned private gym is an offering launched by Hilton in May of last year, in 10 of the chain’s locations, including Austin, Atlanta and Orlando. (Francesca Vitulano)

Features | From Pivot Magazine

Bed, bath and bench press

Forget pillow menus and turndown service. Frequent travellers just want to squeeze in a decent workout when they’re away from home. That’s why hotels are reimagining the premium suite as a private health club of one’s own.

A Facebook IconFacebook A Twitter IconTwitter A Linkedin IconLinkedin An Email IconEmail

From the doorway, it looks like any other hotel room: there’s a plush king-sized bed opposite a flat-screen television and a small desk. But once you step inside, it’s clear this isn’t a standard guest suite. 

In place of an executive chair, the desk has been paired with one of four high-tech stationary bikes guests can choose from, including a Wattbike—a brand endorsed by a handful of elite cyclists that can connect to a rider’s workout-tracking app. Opposite the bike, beside the headboard of the bed, is a Gym Rax training station that includes wall-mounted TRX workout pulleys, medicine balls in varying weights and stretch mats. Even the room’s micro-details are fitness-specific: a “hydration station” is stocked with calorie-free drinks and a protein shake, and in the bathroom, Biofreeze muscle rub is tucked in among the miniature bottles of shampoo and body wash. 

This hotel room turned private gym is an offering launched by Hilton in May of last year, in 10 of the chain’s locations, including Austin, Atlanta and Orlando; six more are planned. The idea is to make working out when away from home customized, motivating (“You’re crushing it today!” says the voice in one of the guided exercise tutorials that can be accessed through a touch-screen TV) and preposterously convenient. “The idea was born out of data from our guest research that showed guests want an inclusive fitness room that gives them a variety [of equipment] and opportunity to work out in whatever way appealed to them that day,” explains Melissa E. Walker, Hilton’s senior director of global brand wellness. 

According to Elle Lasher Walker, consultant at WGSN, a trend forecasting company, the hospitality industry is embracing hyper-customized fitness services to attract both younger consumers in search of personalized experiences, and business travellers who’ve long endured cramped gyms with shoddy equipment and fluorescent lighting in the basements of hotels, well, pretty much everywhere. 

As Joe Chan, lawyer and partner at Richards Buell Sutton in Vancouver, puts it, “So often the hotel gym seems like an afterthought. If I’m paying for a bougie luxe stay to make a work trip that much more bearable, it’d be nice if all the details were thoughtful. A gym can be so much more than a windowless room with a treadmill.”

Given the intense competition the traditional hotel industry is facing from Airbnb—Forbes recently reported a 1.5 per cent loss in hotel revenue in the 10 U.S. cities with the largest Airbnb market share—it’s easy to see why so many hotels are pushing hard to excel where the low-amenity house-sharing giant hasn’t: in high-end self-improvement services. “The hospitality industry [has] really been shaken up by the sharing economy, so a lot of people feel that change is in the air,” says Lasher Walker. “It’s forcing businesses to think really creatively about what consumers want.” 

Twenty-nine rooms across 10 participating Hilton properties have been given the boutique-gym treatment and cost roughly 20 per cent more to stay in than regular premium rooms. “Many of the [participating] hotels are considering expanding into additional rooms as the response has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Walker. The occupancy rate is roughly 70 per cent, on par with other premium rooms. 

While the hotel-room-as-fitness-studio concept seems novel enough, the idea has been gathering steam for several years. The Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts company launched a chain of hotels in 2014 called Even, designed exclusively for the wellness-seeking traveller. Each Even room in cities including Rockville, Md., Brooklyn, N.Y., and Eugene, Ore.—comes equipped with yoga blocks and a mat, core exercise balls and resistance bands. The walls of the “in-room training zone” are decalled with motivational slogans, and guests can access fitness videos on the hotel brand’s YouTube channel. And, of course, Even’s menu is built around healthy organic meals and snacks.

A slew of other hotel properties, both boutique and big chain, are attempting to amp up their fitness cred by striking partnership deals with wellness companies. Westin Hotels and Resorts launched a program that loans guests workout gear from New Balance for only $5, eliminating the need for travellers to pack fitness wear (clean or dirty) in their carry-ons. The Fairmont Vancouver Airport hotel, likewise, has teamed up with Reebok to offer guests loaner workout gear, along with post-workout snacks and access to their on-site gym, for $20 to $50 per day, depending on the level of amenities you choose. At the boutique chain Le Germain, a Lululemon partnership means guests at any location can access express yoga sessions from their room using complimentary mats and asana videos.

While Hilton, Intercontinental, Le Germain and company have yet to report how their fitness packages are selling, a recent study from the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research hints at consumer appetite. It surveyed 782 guests across 33 hotels in the U.S. and found that while 22 per cent of hotel guests use fitness amenities while travelling, 46 per cent said they intended to work out during their stay. Making that workout convenient—by placing the equipment, the motivational slogans, the outfit and even the Bengay at the foot of the bed—might be enough to shrink that gap.