Hoteliers share trends and advice for maximizing wellness options in high-impact zones around the hotel, such as guestrooms, restaurants and fitness centers.
NEW YORK—Wellness may be a state of mind, but incorporating it successfully into hotels means concentrating investments and programming in high-impact, guest-facing areas.
Participants at Hotel News Now’s Wellness Roundtable agreed that since wellness is such a holistic concept and hotel guests have so many different ways of interpreting it, it’s important to remember that wellness isn’t just about healthy food in the restaurant or a great treadmill in the fitness center. Instead, the goal is to incorporate wellness offerings around the hotel that include great fitness centers, relaxing sleep experiences, access to outdoor spaces, plenty of dining options and more.
Spas, for hotels that have them, have traditionally been the go-to place for wellness programming, but roundtable participants said the wellness trend is extending beyond just higher-end hotels with spas and needs to be accessible at all levels and in all areas around the hotel.
Not every hotel has the budget or ability to create a comprehensive wellness experience from the very start, so participants shared best practices for ways to visibly and meaningfully add wellness elements to hotel public spaces, food and beverage and guestrooms.
“There’s such a variety of things you can do with existing hotels” when it comes to wellness, said Ben Brunt, principal and EVP, acquisitions and development for Noble Investment Group. “I think a lot of the brands have done a good job of not making it feel like an add-on. But it’s really up to the owner how you incorporate it and how successful you are in terms of delivering it to guests.”
Food and beverage
For many wellness-focused travelers, healthy food is the first way they stay on track when they’re on the road, and it’s often the entry point for hotels considering adding wellness elements.
“When I’m talking to ownership groups that don’t have any wellness (offerings), the first component we really tackle is the food and beverage,” said James Gould, principal of Horizon Hotel Group. “You can do so much with food and beverage,” he said, citing hotels that maintain small organic gardens and feature that produce on menus, or source food from local farms and promote that.
“We do those simple things first … and build off food and beverage,” he said. “Today with F&B, you have to have something fun and exciting, and you have to compete with outside restaurants. So the easiest way to do that is with menus, organic products, healthy choices at breakfast and really looking at that approach.”
That approach comes with the caution, however, that “wellness” for some travelers means comfort and indulgence, which is why most hotel restaurants adding wellness elements aren’t ditching the burgers anytime soon, roundtable participants said.
“You don’t want to alienate the folks who don’t want (all the elements of wellness) or make them think they’re only at a fitness hotel and lose them,” Brunt said. “A fancy burger and a craft beer can be a (wellness) lifestyle too.”
Rather, participants said it’s about emphasizing local and authentic F&B offerings just as much as healthy ones, since those traits resonate with wellness-minded travelers, too.
Hotels and brand companies continue to see the value of incorporating wellness elements into public spaces, roundtable participants said. That means investing in everything from club-level fitness centers for people who don’t want to miss a single workout, to outdoor areas where travelers can unwind around a fire pit in the evening.
When it comes to fitness centers, owners around the table said the hotel industry’s mindset has shifted and owners increasingly see the value of investing money and space into fitness.
Brunt said so many hotel brands now are “attacking fitness” and really investing in it. He cited Courtyard by Marriott as one example: “If you only had a 300-square-foot fitness center, you may need to take out a room and expand that to 600 or 900 square feet to have the square footage per key count (Marriott) is looking for,” he said.
Matthew Arrants, EVP of Pinnacle Advisory Group, said his company worked on a recent renovation and repositioning of a conference center where the owners converted meeting space into a fitness center “in order to upgrade because it was a point of differentiation.”
And the word is spreading, he said. A nearby tech company saw the photos of the revamped fitness center online and shifted their business to that property.
“We could see the demand, and we could measure the impact on demand immediately,” he said.
Variety in equipment and programming play into fitness center success as well, roundtable participants said, and it’s changing the way designers lay out hotel space.
“Fitness centers are certainly getting bigger … and we’re continuing to realize that and I think it’s because the fitness expense is no longer just equipment,” said Warren Feldman, CEO of Jonathan Nehmer + Associates. “It’s having space for people to do other things … like stretch and do Pilates” and even play ping-pong. “The difference is that fitness is no longer a machine; it’s an activity,” he said.
Beyond fitness centers, Feldman said many hoteliers are bringing wellness elements outside, into outdoor public spaces.
And that doesn’t always mean just swimming pools, he said. For hotels short on outside space, simply opening up dining areas to the outdoors can make a big difference in wellness.
“It’s a huge difference between sitting inside and having breakfast and being able to sit outside and have breakfast,” he said. “So many different brands are now including an outdoor experience within their space that really changes the way it is.”
Successful hotels know their audience when it comes to incorporating public-space wellness, Feldman said. He cited an example of a hotel that found a new wellness-focused use for an underutilized space in the hotel because leisure guests showed a demand for fitness options.
“You really need to think about where you are and the market you’re in,” he said.
Flexibility is another key to wellness success in public spaces, said Jason Moskal, VP of lifestyle brands for InterContinental Hotels Group. That often comes down to great Wi-Fi accessibility.
“Some people love to lock themselves into their guestroom and sit at a desk; other people would rather be in a courtyard smelling fresh air while they put that PowerPoint together,” he said. “How do you create that empowerment to be productive and get done what you need to get done so you can then go enjoy that dinner with co-workers or get that workout in?”
For those guests who prefer to spend the majority of time in their guestrooms, wellness centers around sleep, work and relaxation, roundtable participants said.
“One of the biggest anti-wellness (factors) is stress,” Moskal said. “When you’re traveling for business and have meetings piling up and presentations backing up and you’re not in the office, it creates this paradigm of, ‘How do I get done what I need to get done?’”
He said the Even brand took that into consideration when creating flexible work space in guestrooms that allows guests to stay connected to work whether they’re doing so from the bed or the desk.
That flexibility is key, said Kevin Lorenz, president of Allied/CMS Construction Management Services, particularly given construction and design trends that favor larger public spaces at the expense of smaller guestrooms. When that happens, he said, it’s crucial to make every inch of the guestroom count, whether that means investing in sleep-promoting mattresses and bedding to bathroom amenities and multitasking desks.
Another wellness trend hitting guestrooms is customized rooms and floors. Roundtable participants said they’ve worked on hotels that incorporate things like quiet floors, rooms with exercise equipment built in and rooms designed to minimize allergens. These are all examples of wellness in the guestroom, they said.
“I’m seeing properties that have rooms specific for different guest needs (and we’re) recognizing that not every guest is the same,” Feldman said.
Lorenz agreed, saying developers are beginning to break down room types this way.
“It might start where 5% of your rooms are on quiet floors and 5% are pet-friendly and so on,” he said. “You start small and see how it goes.”