Archive for Monday, February 21, 2005

Hotels launch in-room fitness options

Marriott, Hilton chains step up to meet customers’ privacy, time concerns

February 21, 2005

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— After a long day on the road, the last thing 54-year-old Bobbie Brigman wants to do is put on gym clothes and prance around in front of strangers in the hotel fitness room.

Carrie Haworth, 27, can barely squeeze in 30 minutes for a workout when she's traveling, and she doesn't want to spend half that time waiting for the treadmill.

Some hotel chains are now taking on those complaints.

Marriott and Hilton recently announced in-room fitness options for business travelers. Both chains provide low-tech workout equipment -- such as mats, weights and resistance tubes -- that can be checked out free of charge.

The idea is part of a wider trend of expanded fitness offerings at full-service hotels. Beyond the in-room equipment, Hilton has teamed with Bally Total Fitness to offer guests the opportunity to work with Bally personal trainers either at a local Bally club or in the hotel's fitness room. Westin Hotels & Resorts, meanwhile, is revamping its fitness centers and says it is developing an in-room product for spring.

"The consumer is more health-conscious -- especially the upscale traveler and the business person," said Mary Tabacchi, a professor at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. "These people demand fitness facilities."

That demand is only going to grow, said Jenny Botero, who helped develop Marriott's new program.

"Our demographics and our customers are changing. Although the boomers still stay with us, we're really watching the X'ers and some of Generation Y. Fitness is really important to these demographic groups," Botero said.

Always on the run

Haworth goes to a gym or runs at least four days a week when she's at home in Redondo Beach, Calif. But as an employee of an auto show exhibit company, she's frequently on the road for weeks at a time. The trips involve eating and entertaining, making exercise all the more vital.

"I'm in sales, so I'm kind of a slave to my client. I'm with my client probably 85 percent of the time," she said. "I rarely have more than a half-hour to squeeze in a workout."

Jenny Botero, Residence Manager at Marriott Crystal Gateway Hotel,
displays the in-room fitness equipment in a room at the hotel in
Arlington, Va. The exercise equipment is delivered to the room on
request of the hotel guest.

Jenny Botero, Residence Manager at Marriott Crystal Gateway Hotel, displays the in-room fitness equipment in a room at the hotel in Arlington, Va. The exercise equipment is delivered to the room on request of the hotel guest.

Haworth said she would try an in-room fitness kit to avoid waiting for equipment, as well as the occasional embarrassment of trying to figure out an unfamiliar machine in front of other guests.

Raynard Lawler, resident manager of the Detroit Marriott, said the in-room fitness program, launched in late January, has yet to catch on at his hotel. But he said such conveniences are important for a hotel that's often a second home to contractors for General Motors Corp., which has its headquarters in the same building.

"We've got people who stay here about 30 weeks out of the year," arriving on Sunday and checking out on Thursday, he said.

Conscious choices

Brigman, of Panama City Beach, Fla., travels two or three times a year in her health care job. She says it's important to her to keep up an exercise routine, but she is sometimes reluctant to use a hotel fitness center.

"Being a middle-aged woman over 50, a lot of times I'm not in the mood to put on a leotard in front of all these younger, much more fit human beings," she said with a laugh.

During a recent stay at the Marriott in Delray Beach, Fla., Brigman was one of the first to try out the chain's new in-room equipment. She liked one piece of equipment -- a large foam wedge with 21 different exercises printed on it -- so much she ordered it for home use.

Marriott also offers resistance tubes and a weighted device that comes with an accompanying video for aerobic exercise and strength training.

Hilton's in-room equipment includes a yoga mat, elastic exercise bands, resistance tubing, and 3- and 5-pound hand weights. Personal trainers through Bally are available in most major city Hiltons as well for $55 to $70 an hour.

The program was just rolled out Feb. 1, so Hilton officials say it's too early to gauge its success.

Westin has spent $12 million to build new fitness centers in 53 hotels in North America and the Caribbean. New facilities are set to open this year in 40 Westins in Europe and Asia. The chain says it is working on an in-room fitness product, along with its sister chain, Sheraton. It already offers yoga and other exercise routines via the hotel's TV channel.

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