The Health Club Challenge Facing Hotels

Recently, the hotel health club industry has been getting a lot of mainstream press. Some hotels have developed fitness equipment standards, some have formed strategic relationships with various manufacturers and others now have associations with health club chains (And for the record, I wouldn't be surprised if one of the larger hotel players doesn't buy a health club brand in the near future). Many hotels now offer personal trainers and in-room exercise options. The problem they face — or better put, where they fail most of the time — is with the follow through. The follow through boils down to changing the mindset of the hotel staff and the hotel management. Even if you change out your equipment and build nicer looking facilities, you can't go anywhere if your management is still focusing on the “heads in the beds.” Far too often, once a hotel fitness facility is built, the management forgets about the fitness opportunities. After all, they wonder, what business are we in — restaurants, health clubs, spas, bars, entertainment, or are we in an industry evolving into a lifestyle industry or the leisure industry?

Just recently, I visited a fitness facility at one major hotel chain that had rolled out a branded product. While the gym was relatively small, it had all the equipment to get a full body workout — and, by the looks of it, probably some sort of rare disease as well. The place looked like it hadn't been cleaned since they installed the equipment. Okay, I might be exaggerating a bit; they had done some surface cleaning, but they had not moved anything when they dusted. The weight rack had so much dust on it that I could have written my name on it. Despite the dust, I decided to give the cardio equipment a try. Once I elevated the treadmill, I saw so much dust and dirt underneath it that I thought they were growing vegetables under there (keeping with the health theme). And one glance up at the ceiling air returns showed a similar state of affairs. They had such an accumulation of dust that it was difficult to even discern their original color.

The first treadmill I tried was inoperable. So what did I do? I went to the next one. Did I tell anyone? No. The facility was not staffed and I did an express checkout. So how long do you think the piece of equipment remained out of order? Was housekeeping (who obviously never moved it) going to test each piece of equipment? Probably not. Honestly, if I'm not going to take the time to inform the staff about the lackluster (and mostly broken) facility, then do you really expect your clients to? Just like me, they don't have the time, and it's just not convenient for them to do so.

The problem often is staffing. If the hotel staffs the facility, it becomes a cost center, and how does the hotel go about offsetting the cost? Some hotels decide to sell memberships to bring in added revenue. However, selling memberships requires more staff and could possibly make the facility crowded — especially during prime times — thereby turning off the hotel guests for whom the facility was originally built. Equipment would also get more use requiring more servicing and more frequent replacement (which translates into more money output).

Some hotels are convinced that their guests want to work out in their room. However, in the time that it takes for the guest to call to request a bike or a workout kit, wait for someone to find it in storage and deliver it to their room, they could have already been in the gym with half of their workout completed. The workout kit that many hotels offer typically is some form of dyna band (a stretch band with handles) with instructions. One cruise ship company used to offer these bands, but it stopped because of the large number of lawsuits that occurred after the bands slipped and hit people in the face and other sensitive areas. The cruise line also had problems with children using them as slingshots and hitting each other with them.

As far as partnerships with health clubs go, Hilton recently developed a strategic relationship with Bally Total Fitness. But I wonder, did Hilton check with the Better Business Bureau to see how many complaints have been filed against this club chain? Did Hilton search the Web to find out how many sites are dedicated to bad-mouthing this chain? Does Hilton really want to be associated with a reputation like that?

There are ways to address the issues discussed above, but for the most part, hotels have not figured them out yet. However, hotels must begin by re-evaluating their goals. Only after doing this can they decide what role the health club will play within their overall package and their marketing campaign.

Glenn Colarossi is the president of Colarossi Spa & Health Club Consulting & Management. He has worked on projects throughout the world for five-star clients. He can be reached at 203-357-7555 or

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