Mr. Ryan

Spas, Health & Wellness

Virtual Walkathons: Coming to a Hotel Near You

San Francisco Hyatt Hotels Health and Fitness Challenge

By Oliver Ryan, CEO, Count.It Labs

Managers at Hyatt Regency San Francisco had a battle on their hands - in the best possible way. Determined to do something fun and healthy for their 400 person staff, they launched a challenge on a digital platform that powers fitness tracker-driven wellness programs. The first challenge was so successful, two other Bay Area Hyatts wanted in, and the Battle of the Bay was on. In the end, co-workers at all three properties rose to the occasion, but just one hotel took the gold. It also became clear which person at a major market hotel moves the most.

In the employee cafeterias of the three San Francisco Hyatt Hotels, employees are glued to the big screens - but they are not following a crosstown playoff series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics. Instead, they're tracking a brightly colored, ever-changing leaderboard showing which hotel, and which employees, are on top on any given day. Human Resource managers at each property issue weekly email propaganda, including, in one notable case, a digitally altered hip hop dance video featuring the three hotel General Managers urging their people into the fray.

What's going on? The leaderboards in question are continuously fed by employees' fitness tracking apps and wearable devices, and people are battling to see which hotel is the fittest of them all.

alt text
The Leaderboard #HyattLeague

Welcome to workplace wellness in the age of smartphones and wearables - and taken to new heights by hotel executives in the cradle of the tech revolution. At play are bragging rights for the most active hotel, and prizes for top individuals. For the losing hotels comes the obligation to donate hundreds to a local charity supporting the homeless. In short, the stakes are high and good, but there's another pressing question on everyone's mind: Across all the departments at a popular major market hotel, from the front desk to the back office, who moves most? Is it the boss, the bellhop, or the housekeeping worker on the late shift?

"Managers sit at their desk a lot," points out Victor Povzner, IT Director of Hyatt Regency San Francisco, and tech mastermind behind the hotel's initial fitness challenge. "But they also go to the gym, or may go running several times a week."

Right, this is San Francisco, home of competitive mountain bikers and triathletes. It might be reasonable to expect that some super fit boss would take the top prize in the company's fitness challenge. For the record, that wasn't the case.

Let's back up for a moment: How did the Bay Area Hyatt Hotels find themselves in a friendly but pitched battle, and did the program achieve its goals? More to the point, what were those goals, and is this something other hotels might want to try too?

"The project was driven by Human Resource," says Povzner. And the goal was twofold, as it often is with wellness: Do something fun, that's also healthy. The human resources team at Hyatt Regency San Francisco wanted to get people moving and talking. They wanted to spark camaraderie among co-workers and between departments. So, they began considering a hotel-wide fitness challenge.

alt text
Hyatt Regency San Francisco, a Great Place to Hike!

With over 400 associates, many had different wearables brands, and/or used other fitness tracking apps on their smartphones. He began extensive research on reliable tracking systems, and soon discovered a brave new world of tracker-driven wellness platforms.

"The most important features we needed," says Povzner about his choice, "were a simple, user friendly interface."

Within weeks, activity data from a growing number of Hyatt Regency San Francisco employees was lighting up the big board in the employee cafeteria.

It's not likely to be the last virtual, inter-hotel wellness league. What's happening in San Francisco is happening all over America.

Never mind the battle over healthcare policy in DC, the country's best hope to make America healthy again may come from a different group of champions entirely: Human Resource managers tasked with wellness - including those in charge of the nearly 20 million Americans who work in the U.S. hospitality industry.

Wellness has been a growing priority for many American companies, but with health insurance premiums now eating up 8% of a typical corporate budget, and rising, the need has never been more urgent, or the market hotter. At the same time, the explosion of wearable devices and social computing is changing the game.

A new generation of web native startups is disrupting the market, bringing new technology and ideas to tired old corporate wellness programs at rock bottom prices.

Yet, despite all the new technology, the ultimate cure is as old as the hills. Literally. Take the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco, for example. It's a four story building, with offices spread across all the floors and served by banks of elevators, escalators and, yes, stairs.

"Some people never really walk much," says Povzner. "But during the challenge it was very close between the hotels. One week one hotel was in the lead, and then next another. Everyone in the competition stopped using the escalator. They used only the stairs."

And that's not all. Hyatt Regency San Francisco marathon training group surged in size and upped its frequency of group training sessions from once to three times a week. Across town, runners at Grand Hyatt San Francisco began hitting the scenic Embarcadero together for runs during off hours. In short, all people needed was a little nudge - it takes a village, or a trash talking co-worker.

"It was very exciting and created a sense of comradery with the team," says Neil Eads, Assistant Director of Operations. "I woke up every morning excited to be active and work towards winning the competition! Even on days off from work, I made sure to run on a treadmill or walk around my neighborhood to get more steps."

Experts have been arguing for years about the hard return on investment of wellness programs, but a growing body of evidence suggests the return is positive. One landmark review suggested a three-to-one return for every dollar spent on wellness. Another saw a 70% decrease in sick days for employees participating in a well structured program. In one poll, 90% of employees said they felt their wellness program had a positive impact on their lives.

To be sure, not all efforts are created equal. Many wellness initiatives fall flat. The ugly truth is that human resources departments are busy and budget constrained, and even a simple step challenge has, in the past, been a massive administrative challenge.

Thanks to technology that picture is changing, however. By 2020 some 411 million fitness trackers will be sold worldwide, and most working Americans now have smartphones and social media accounts. Indeed, the infrastructure is now in place to run effective wellness programming at a fraction of the cost of even five years ago. Equally important, users have gotten more adept and comfortable at managing their personal data, and tech applications now offer privacy controls to make social challenges at work feel safe for employees.

While it's still early days, virtual walkathons, tracker-driven activity rewards, and perhaps happier, healthier teams may well be coming to a hotel near you. Already, the word has spread around the Hyatt network, and hotels across the country are making noises about joining the Bay Area Hyatts, or starting leagues of their own.

Oliver Ryan is founder and CEO of Count.It Labs. He also co-founded Apartment Therapy Media (2004) . Immediately before founding Count.It, Mr. Ryan launched and ran, an early fitness culture blog and interactive community. From 2009 to 2013, Social Workout hosted over 40,000 interactive fitness challenges with partners such as AOL/Huffington Post, Everyday Health, Greatist, Equinox, and Yoga Journal. The company also partnered with Whole Foods Market to develop and launch Full Spoon, a workplace wellness service launched in Norther California and successfully sold to LinkedIn and Tesla Motors. The Count.It technology, product design, and business model grew out of all of these experiences. Mr. Ryan can be contacted at 917-214-2073 or Please visit for more information. Extended Bio... retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

Receive our daily newsletter with the latest breaking news and hotel management best practices.
Hotel Business Review on Facebook
General Search:

AUGUST: Food & Beverage: Multiplicity and Diversity are Key

Paul Hancock

Vegetables are no longer served as garnishes or accompaniments but, center stage in the dining scene in this day. Plate design and bold flavors are more paramount than ever. The “wow” effect is in full effect. Guests are more eager to try something new more than ever before. It is entertainment, so it has to be great and throughout the dining experience. There is a cultural shift happening right in front of our eyes with vegetables. Vegetables have been the unsung heroes of the plate for many decades. That is changing. READ MORE

Robert  Hood

What does a restaurant look like in 2017? To define what a restaurant is is a difficult process and not an easy thing to do considering that foodservice has evolved so much and comes in so many shapes and sizes. In 2017 restaurants are not even defined for having chairs or tables for diners or even want diners to stay after the point of food purchase and the sale is completed. This is the world of the ‘QSR’ or ‘Quick Service Restaurant’ and since it arrived it has changed restaurant culture, our food service experiences on an almost daily basis, and begs the question ‘is QSR the new fine dining?’ READ MORE

Chris Ferrier

Many hotels are overwhelmed by the thought of putting together a ‘buy local’ or ‘farm-to-table’ culinary program when they also have to serve many guests. Where do you start? Should chefs contact all the local farms, breweries, wineries, fish mongers, meat and poultry farms in their area? Should they visit each farm? Many years ago, this was what we did; but with 1,200 meals to prepare, often we would clear out the farmers’ goods and still not have enough for what we needed. READ MORE

Bobby Martyna

A key trend in hotel development is making the hotel lobby a destination for guests. Where in the past, the focus was primarily on the guest room, moving forward, brands and independents are looking to transform the lobby into a space where guests can socialize, work, snack and dine. In order for the lobby destination to be both compelling and memorable, the retail design, visual merchandising and food selection need to convey what is special about the location and must work together to deliver a surpassing guest experience. READ MORE

Coming Up In The September Online Hotel Business Review

Feature Focus
Hotel Group Meetings: Blue Skies Ahead
After a decade of sacrifice and struggle, it seems that hotels and meeting planners have every reason to be optimistic about the group meeting business going forward. By every industry benchmark and measure, 2017 is shaping up to be a record year, which means more meetings in more locations for more attendees. And though no one in the industry is complaining about this rosy outlook, the strong demand is increasing competition among meeting planners across the board – for the most desirable locations, for the best hotels, for the most creative experiences, for the most talented chefs, and for the best technology available. Because of this robust demand, hotels are in the driver’s seat and they are flexing their collective muscles. Even though over 100,000 new rooms were added last year, hotel rates are expected to rise by a minimum of 4.0%, and they are also charging fees on amenities that were often gratis in the past. In addition, hotels are offering shorter lead times on booking commitments, forcing planners to sign contracts earlier than in past years. Planners are having to work more quickly and to commit farther in advance to secure key properties. Planners are also having to meet increased attendee expectations. They no longer are content with a trade show and a few dinners; they want an experience. Planners need to find ways to create a meaningful experience to ensure that attendees walk away with an impactful memory. This kind of experiential learning can generate a deeper emotional connection, which can ultimately result in increased brand recognition, client retention, and incremental sales. The September Hotel Business Review will examine issues relevant to group business and will report on what some hotels are doing to promote this sector of their operations.