Just over a decade ago, gyms were a watch-word in the hotel industry. It was a case of: ‘if you build it, they will come!’ So… did they? Zara Horner finds out.

If the Roman poet philosopher Horace is to be believed, “Life is largely a matter of expectation”, and it’s no secret that hotel guest expectations are ever-rising.

It’s a given that within the industry – from F&B to corporate facilities and child-minding – meeting and even exceeding those expectations is where repeat visits lie and for some time it has been understood that health and fitness facilities can make the difference.

With so many people now focused on fitness providing a first-class gym is a real value-add. Guests who are determined to stay in shape on the road as well as those who don’t want to forego their fitness programme while on holiday will book hotels with the best and most up-to-date fitness amenities. As in every other department that means being one step ahead of the rest and having the very latest equipment.

LifeFitness regional director of hospitality David Chioe, agrees. “A well-equipped hotel gym is now vital and a differentiator. We are seeing more hotels placing more attention on their fitness offerings by bringing in latest equipment as well as a variety of concepts originating from the commercial fitness industry, such as HIIT and small group training.

“The most in-demand piece of equipment is still the treadmill, but we are seeing more demand for functional training equipment which allows guests to perform specialised training. Providing a wider range of fitness accessories is gaining traction. Hotel buyers are definitely now keeping abreast of trends in the fitness industry.”

LifeFitness, a subsidiary of Chicago-based Brunswick Corporation, has its roots in the invention of the first exercise bike in 1968. In 1977 the company was incorporated as Lifecycle and became LifeFitness in 1984. It’s now “the largest fitness company in the world with over 1,700 employees and 12 manufacturing facilities.”

Good to great

The days when hotel fitness facilities were low on the list of priorities have disappeared. Guests, perhaps particularly business travellers, focus on access to first-class fitness facilities. There are even websites dedicated to help travellers locate hotels with the best fitness amenities. The answer to going from ‘good’ to ‘great’ on feedback sites lies in attention to detail, from the latest cardio machines to the most obscure equipment ‘extras’.

Founded in Bangkok in 1991, Seara Sports is the authorised distributor of a range of fitness equipment brands and accessories for the hospitality market. As “the oldest fitness distributor in the Asia-Pacific region”, the company specialises in the planning, supply, and installation of sports, recreation, and fitness amenities.

“Hotel brands are placing increasing emphasis on their recreation and health amenities as they are important to guest satisfaction as well as being capital assets,” says George Foose, Seara Sports executive director.

“These properties especially require international standard indoor and outdoor facilities utilising products that meet specific technical certifications for playability, safety, and durability,” Foose points out, going on to warn: “some hospitality operators sign special ‘brand standard’ agreements with major suppliers. The objective is to ensure commonality in purchasing and quality fitness and health equipment at prices more favourable than could be obtained by the property’s owner. However, this policy of establishing single brand standards does not allow hotels brands to stay current with trends in the fitness industry.

“No single supplier can provide all the training equipment categories and techniques desired by today’s market place and users. A brand new or refurbished hotel fitness facility will not be as competitive as an external commercial facility or hospitality-based facility that has not tied itself to a single brand. The fitness industry is branching into so many different trends and types of training that even a new facility may open as less than cutting edge.”

It should be remembered that fitness centres are also social spaces and a certain level of comfort, entertainment, and personal space is vital to ensure a positive ‘experience’ package.

“That means having cardio vascular equipment in sufficient numbers – and variety – so there is no compaction or waiting,” Foose points out. “On the road it’s all about maintenance of one’s fitness level so functional training equipment and some personal floor space is important. Safe, good quality, selective equipment that isolates specific body areas are also a must.”

Flooring it

Perhaps surprisingly, and often not considered, one area in which technology is making huge differences in the fitness space is flooring applications; here synthetic rubber-based products have been changing rapidly.

“The utilisation of laminated manufacturing, computer aided design, and laser cutting techniques coupled with a mix of coloured synthetic EPDM rubber has resulted in superior looking, hard-wearing solutions over older, flammable, odour prone, SBR rubber floor tiles, vinyl, or carpeting,” Foose says. “The new designs are near seamless, easy to install, allow for endless design possibilities, and clean easily with no rubber smell. Functionally and aesthetically synthetic rubber laminates are more appropriate for activity and fitness flooring than carpeting or other alternatives such as vinyl.”

Core Health & Fitness distributes industry leading brands including StarTrac, StairMaster, Nautilus and Schwinn. Vincent Chen, Asia-Pacific sales and marketing manager says, “on a global scale more and more travellers, particularly business men, make accommodation decisions based upon a few critical factors, of course location and the ability to book online are priorities, but the quality of the gym facility and equipment is right up there now. However, I do think it’s interesting to note that the gym in hotels still appears more important for western hospitality markets and for western travellers than Asian travellers.”

Ahead, Core health & Fitness will soon be launching the Star Trac next generation high performance treadmill. The 10 series FreeRunner will be compatible with both the 19” HD touch screen console and LCD keypad console. Watch connectivity is now available on all 8 series cardio Star Trac and StairMaster machines, while the StairMaster 8 series Gauntlet will be redesigned and upgraded to the10 series in the next few months to incorporate a new touch display, new handrails, and new torque mode.

LifeFitness’ Chioe says, “We are expecting our hotel clients to look for a more connected experience for their guests which means bringing in equipment that enables their guests to track their workout.

“We are also expecting to see hotels getting more smaller fitness accessories such as kettlebells, sandbags, resistance bands etc to complement their existing fitness offerings.”