Travelers are increasingly expecting a hotel experience that allows them to live a healthy lifestyle, but that can mean different things to different people.
NEW YORK—For most people, the strongest association to the word “wellness” is the idea of physical fitness and nutrition. But while eating a healthy diet and regularly working out are indeed important elements to the growing number of wellness offerings in hotels, sources said the concept means different things at different points to different people.
Speaking during Hotel News Now’s Wellness Roundtable, experts on the subject said the idea of wellness is growing increasingly integral to the travel experience.
In the end, it comes down to enabling guests to make “healthy choices,” said Ben Brunt, principal and EVP, acquisitions and development for Noble Investment Group.
“That might mean choosing to have more of a high-end burger and a fancy beer versus going to McDonald’s,” he said.
Dieter Schmitz, area GM for three InterContinental Hotels Group properties in New York City including two Even Hotels, said guests want to be able to make the same kind of healthy and fulfilling choices while they’re away from home.
“It’s just the simple ability to stay on track when you’re on the road,” he said. “I think a part of all of this is that you want to leave feeling better than when you arrived.”
And Kevin Lorenz, president of Allied/CMS Construction Management Services, said hoteliers need to think about wellness holistically, including consideration for guests’ emotional and mental well-being.
“The environment has to be supportive of those things,” he said.
Jason Moskal, VP of lifestyle brands at IHG, said it’s about finding the various ways guests might make themselves feel well and opening the door for those activities.
“Sometimes it’s eating a great meal or getting a good night’s sleep, while to others it’s getting a good workout in,” he said. “But it’s (a matter of) feeling good about yourself (and feeling) physically and emotionally balanced.”
Guest demand for wellness
Participants in the roundtable collectively stressed that consumer interest in wellness is more than a trend. It’s a behavioral shift that is likely here for the long term.
Rebecca Warren, editor-in-chief for Women’s Running magazine and Competitor.com, said the shift is a response to one of the most persistent pain points in the travel experience.
“I think (the move toward wellness) is minimizing the inherent stress of travel,” she said. “It’s just a stressful thing to travel, to manage your check-in times, your transportation, your booking details.”
So any way hotels can incorporate the ideas of health and wellness to improve how guests feel is vital, given that hotels are essentially a guest’s “home away from home,” Warren said.
“It’s your base when you’re not in your place,” she said.
Brunt said hoteliers always need to be tuned in to the fact that hotels are just one piece in the overall travel journey, and ideally they’re the less-stressful portion of that journey.
“It’s the planes, trains and automobiles to get where you’re going (that cause stress),” he said. “They will always struggle in providing an experience because it’s so temporary. It’s crowded and you’re with others, but when you have the opportunity to be by yourself (you can try) to mimic (home) when you’re in a comfort zone.”
Warren Feldman, CEO of Jonathan Nehmer + Associates, said hotels have a responsibility to provide guests the tools for wellness in large part because they’re at the point in a guest’s journey where it is most needed.
“If you’re in a hotel, you are away from your comfort zone. … So it’s not that this is a great place to do it, but this is the place we really need it,” he said.
Feldman noted hotels need to streamline things to help make it as easy as possible for guests to do the things that will ultimately make them feel good.
“Your home is hopefully more of a wellness sanctuary than a hotel is, but here (you) need it because everything else is different,” he said. “So this is where I need to be able to get back to and relax.”
Schmitz said the demand for healthy options in hotels isn’t just coming from guests themselves. Many business travelers work for companies that are stressing health and wellness initiatives themselves, and likely appreciate sending their people to places that can keep those efforts going.
“We have a great corporate base, because what’s the point of five days of having your employees be well, but then they’re on the road and it all goes by the wayside?” he said. “It’s completely counterproductive.”
Schmitz also said it’s important that opportunities for more wellness-oriented travelers are filtering down to segments other than luxury and upper-upscale hotels.
“When I used to travel, it was like there’s no way you’re going to stay on track,” he said. “Now, you can, and it’s not going to cost you $500 a night. You can do it affordably.”
The demand for wellness in hotels has given rise to more wellness-based thinking and the creation of more wellness-oriented brands and brand standards.
Moskal said much of the thinking at the inception of Even was based around the fact that the realities and limitations of hotels often left travelers with fewer and fewer healthy choices to make on the road.
“It was frustrating because I can work out, I can eat right, I can sleep right when I’m at home, but when I’m on the road, it all goes by the wayside,” he said. “So how can hotels provide the ability to continue to retain whatever that routine is while you’re on the road?”
Matthew Arrants, EVP of Pinnacle Advisory Group, said the ease of slipping into bad habits while traveling make it important that hotels make healthy choices even easier than they would be at home.
“There’s so many temptations, so the easier you can make it for the guests, the better,” he said.
And while wellness is many things to many people, Arrants said that often comes back to delivering on the basics.
“Having a high-quality fitness center is critical,” he said.
He also praised hotels that offer other simple fitness-related amenities like in-room workout gear.
“You need all the help you can get,” he said.
Warren said the trend toward expecting wellness-related options at hotels is at least in part a generational one.
“I think it’s driven in large part by millennials, from my experience,” she said. “Wellness is no longer seen as a privilege where you have to spend $15,000 and a week of your annual leave to go to Canyon Ranch. (Now) it’s a right, and people are integrating that into their day-to-day and that they have to take time for self-care. If they’re going to work a 70-hour week, they’ve got to sleep well, work out and eat properly.”
But that doesn’t mean millennials are the only ones buying in, said James Gould, principal of Horizon Hotel Group.
“All generations are doing it,” he said. “I think the hotel industry’s been slow to move. It’s taken us time to catch up with the rest of the country with healthy food, organic food and all these trends that have been out there.”