Mr. Green

Spas, Health & Wellness

Fitness Matters: What Today's Traveler Wants & How to Exceed Expectations

By Bryan Green, Founder & CEO, Advantage Fitness Products

The days of fitness as merely an ancillary concern or an afterthought for hotels and resorts are long gone. So many of today's business and vacation travelers make fitness and longevity a daily focus of their increasingly active lifestyles. But don't just take my word for it. A number of leading hotel brands have conducted extensive guest surveys, with fitness ranking on average as the second or third amenity priority for travelers when assessing and choosing a hotel. That's serious business indeed. In order to take the business of fitness seriously, its critical to understand what travelers are seeking to not only meet expectations, but to exceed them. This can only be achieved with a mindset that recognizes fitness as a critical component to customer satisfaction, and not merely as a trend. With that in mind, I'm here to help by providing a detailed look at the baseline elements your fitness offering needs to incorporate to keep your customers coming back.

Location, Location, Location

In the business world, whether a retail store, a restaurant, a hotel or any other consumer-focused business, location is critical. This is no different for your facility's fitness center. The whole idea of a fitness center is for guests to actually USE it. To this point, first and foremost, the fitness center needs to be easily accessible. If your guests need to consult a complex directory of the property and a compass to find it, then having the latest and greatest equipment won't make a difference. The location should also be pleasant and inviting. No one wants to exercise in a dark and dreary basement or the stark confines of a converted guest room where beds and baths have simply been replaced with treadmills and dumbbells. A fitness center needs to exude the same sense of vitality that is produced by exercise itself. Therefore lighting is critical. The room should be bright and if possible, capitalize on natural light through windows that also bring in the facility's natural surroundings. If at all possible, choose locations that allow for this. The Ritz Carlton in Dana Point, CA comes to mind as a great example. The hotel's fitness center is designed to capitalize on location, with massive bay windows that capture breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. If views like this aren't a luxury you have to offer, than focus on bright, vibrant lighting and the use of color schemes that maximize available lighting and capture the sense of energy that's critical to any exercise environment.

A Balanced Offering

Whether your allotted fitness space is vast or limited, the next key is a space that's properly planned for exercise "balance." Too often, facilities narrow the offering to treadmills and other popular cardiovascular equipment, and fail to include sufficient strength training elements such as dumbbells, adjustable benches or cable based strength machines. An imbalanced offering that favors a single modality or training method leaves you open to ignoring the basic fitness needs of a significant number of guests. Despite the fact that new fitness trends are constantly emerging, the "staples" of cardio and strength training continue to be irreplaceable to a balanced fitness offering. Making sure these "staples" are balanced will be critical to maintaining customer satisfaction.

Size Matters

Guests aren't expecting hotel or resort fitness centers to be as vast as, or on par with what they experience at their health clubs back home. Yours is not a commercial fitness facility and guests recognize this. What they do expect is that your facility will offer enough options where they won't have to depart significantly from the routines they're used to at the gym back home. So while "too big" isn't necessarily going to pose a problem for your guests, "too small" certainly can. Make sure that your fitness space is large enough to accommodate the aforementioned balanced exercise offering and supported by an area for stretching and accessory usage. Size also matters from a standpoint of safety and ultimately liability. The space needs to allow for easy and safe mobility between machines. To these points, the assistance of a qualified fitness consultant is important to proper planning and layout. Typically, the best architects in the world are not fitness experts and they too will seek external guidance in this specialized area for their clients.

Plan to Stay Current

Fitness space is as dynamic an offering as you will ever have on property, with evolving technology, equipment types, exercise trends and user demographics constantly shifting. It pays dividends in the long run to account for this and secure counsel to develop an effective 3- to 5-year plan for the initial selection of equipment and facility d'ecor. Your plan should have built in components that allow you to easily anticipate and respond to these changing dynamics and the customer expectations that ultimately change with them. Be sure that annual budgets allow for additions or incremental adjustments to the fitness offering, such as the addition of new accessories or the replacement of a machine or two to keep things current for your guests. And expect to revisit the plan a couple times every decade to refresh the space on a more substantial level. Remember, this isn't a short-term trend that can be satisfied through a short-term fix. You're making a commitment to fitness over the long haul.

Keep it Clean

More than ever, the fitness industry is sensitive to matters of hygiene. The perception of fitness as a sweat, smell, grunt and grind endeavor, have given way to the importance of health and hygiene. Besides, it'd be more than ironic that a place of health and fitness offer as many health risks as it does benefits. So ensure that your facility is always clean and germ free by committing to regular cleaning and preventative maintenance for your equipment. This should be non-negotiable. Guests want access to pre-saturated, equipment-friendly disinfectant wipes that they can use at will. Customer satisfaction is found in the peace of mind they'll possess, knowing that your facility goes further than simply a daily vacuuming and minor wipe down of equipment.

"Sweat" the Small Stuff

There are a host of smaller, ancillary considerations that can make a significant difference to the guest experience in fitness. Some are presentation elements such as the choice of colors and surface material for your equipment upholstery. Think about accessory additions that are typically low in cost but high in improving overall satisfaction such as stretching mats, stability balls, and resistance bands that should be regularly replenished. There's also entertainment to consider. Most consumers have come to expect some level of entertainment from their fitness experience, whether it's large elevated LCD monitors or cardio machines equipped with personal viewing screens or docking stations for I-pods or other audio devices. Flooring should also be considered. Carpet is a no-no in fitness and the typical black rubber floors are simply ugly and often are made from recycled rubber, which carry a foul odor. Today, there exist a multitude of floor coverings specifically designed for the fitness center environment.

Integration

Lastly, it's important to consider the value of integrating the fitness space as a true extension of, and consistent with, the overall look and feel of the entire hotel or resort. So often, it seems that fitness centers look as though an attempt was made to relocate the local health club into the hotel or resort property. The fitness center should be seen as yet another opportunity to carry out the visual look and feel of every other aspect of the property. Theme the fitness center with similar design elements featured in your common areas and other featured spaces on the property. There's no rule that states that your fitness center has to project the seriousness and intensity of "muscle beach." The facility must appeal to a wide range of age, gender and experience levels. One way to assist in this mission is to keep the overall look and feel consistent with that of the entire property. Once again, if you hope to satisfy the demands of today's increasingly fitness-conscious travelers, first and foremost, it starts with your perception of fitness. If you think it's a passing trend, your fitness-minded customers might treat your hotel or resort the same - choosing to stay elsewhere next time. If you embrace Fitness as a critical component leading to long-term guest satisfaction, you're long-term commitment should lead to your fitness-minded customer's long-term commitment to you.

Bryan Green is a wellness industry entrepreneur and fitness facility design expert. He has overseen the development of training facilities for Fortune 100 companies, global hospitality flags, health clubs, specialty studios, universities, and professional sports teams. Mr. Green founded Advantage Fitness Products (AFP) in 1997 to meet the growing demand for consultative support and supply of non-traditional wellness facilities beyond the larger health club chains. Mr. Green established FitnessDesignGroup® in 2001 to serve as a specialized consultancy for early stage planning and design for commercial fitness facilities of all types. The company has since evolved to provide project management services, and today foundationally supports both AFP and the Aktiv Solution divisions towards their client facility design requirements. Mr. Green can be contacted at 310-559-9949 Ext: 110 or bgreen@afproducts.com Extended Bio...

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