Don’t overlook the potential of the hotel gym

People well beyond merely the millennial and centennial generations increasingly view fitness as a critical aspect of their lives. Nowhere is this more typified than buzzy term ‘wellness’, which will likely soon grow out of its trendiness to simply become an accepted requirement for any property worldwide.

Given this profound behavioral shift, it’s about time you re-evaluated your fitness center as a major selling feature. There is one aspect of the hotel gym, though, to keep in mind for any new build or future renovation, and please excuse the history lesson!

The gymnasium has its origins all the way back to ancient Greece (where the word originates). When you think about the earliest form of the gym, though, your mind probably rushes to images of tanned and oiled Olympians flexing and grunting amidst the rugged, arid hilltops of the Peloponnese. But in actuality, these gymnasiums were about 5% perspiration and 95% socialization.

The notion that the ancient fitness center was more of a gathering spot than for real exercise first coalesced during my last trip to Rome, when I finally had a chance to visit the Baths of Caracalla. An impressive site comprising the same floor pad as a modern football stadium, this structure housed multiple bathing rooms (hot, cold, lukewarm), spaces for light wrestling, transition or changerooms throughout and even a library. Mind you, back in the day this entire complex was only open to men (progress!), but the general idea was that each hall had one primary function while all were in service of keeping the conversation flowing.

While I applaud all the tech-borne in-room advancements and even some of the latest projects to bring in-room fitness to the harried business traveler – such as Hilton’s Five Feet to Fitness – let’s not forget that fitness has always been a social activity. After all, we are social animals, and it’s the ‘fitness center’, not the ‘fitness alcove’ or ‘fitness closet’.

Exercise for some will forever be a solo, introspective affair. These are the people who will don ballcaps to the gym, keeping their headphones on with music blaring and averting their gaze from any semblance of eye contact. Further, these individuals will benefit immensely from the latest and greatest guestroom exercise programs that are being rolled out across numerous brands.

However, for others, the fitness or wellness center represents not only a place for bodily improvement but also one for meeting new people and positive interactions. Too often I still see hotel gyms that do not encourage socialization; they are dimly lit rooms tucked away from the main property thoroughfares and poorly staffed. Let’s change that, as the fitness center, when imbued with more features to spur conversation, can thereby serve to greatly enhance guest satisfaction and brand loyalty by acting as yet another ‘third space’.

This doesn’t necessary imply hundreds of thousands of dollars in capex. Consider adding group classes or hiring an onsite physiotherapist who is comfortable with reaching out to guests on his or her own. A juice bar or any other point where social lubricants are sold will also work well. Next, train your team to approach avid gym goers to spark a conversation that goes beyond relaying basic information like hours of operation or about the towel service.

Last, technology can help here too, either through apps that highlight onsite wellness events or even wayfinding software with geofencing functionalities so guests know exactly where the gym is. There are plenty of options that you can investigate that do not require any physical improvements and often come as part of another software upgrade that you are going to have make anyway.

As wellness is reaching a critical mass, now is definitely the time to start looking at what you can do to meet this growing demand.