in     25-11-2015
SANTA MONICA, California—For a certain type of person, or guest, fitness is more than an aspect of life. It’s the focal point.
A hotelier with that same single-minded focus can engender a unique type of loyalty from the fitness-minded, according to panelists at the “Growth of fitness & nutrition communities in hospitality” panel at the Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association’s 2015 Leadership Symposium.
“Wellness is fundamentally a value system,” said Kevin Kelly, CEO and partner at Two Bunch Palms, a resort and spa in Desert Hot Springs, California. “If we’re able to create platforms or forums for people on vacation or otherwise to exercise their wellness lifestyle, we create an emotional experience around healthy living and healthy choices. … The way we look at it is the hotel resort room is a portal into that lifestyle.” 
Expectations of the fitness traveler
Jayne McAllister, founder of Jayne McAllister Travel Wellness, said hoteliers looking to make a connection with the truly fitness-minded can’t make a half-hearted effort.
“Paying lip service just isn’t going to hack it anymore,” McAllister said, noting research conducted by InterContinental Hotels Group before launching its Even Hotels brand that showed there are as many as 17 million business travelers who want to focus on staying healthy on the road. “The ultimate goal should be letting people maintain their healthy lifestyle whether they’re traveling or not.”
Mark Grenoble, president of the Enchantment Group, said staying fit and healthy shouldn’t mean guests don’t get to enjoy themselves. That particularly comes into play with food and beverage.
“Spa food and wellness food used to be about deprivation,” Grenoble said. “The focus was what you couldn’t do. You couldn’t do this; you couldn’t do that. Now our thing is about everything in moderation. What you can have, just do it the right way. Have that glass of wine, metabolize and move on. You should be happy and enjoy it.” 
David Gutstadt, managing director of hospitality for Related/Equinox, said hoteliers must know that different kinds of guests will have different needs when it comes to health and wellness.
“Performance to me might mean I’m able to continue training for my next triathlon, or performance to you might mean you want to stick to your diet,” Gutstadt said. “If you show up at (midnight) and the minibar is chocolates, gummy bears and booze, that’s not such an easy thing.”
Benefits of fitness loyalty
Grenoble said there’s an obvious premium for booking wellness-focused travelers. And that’s more true now today than ever.
“Luxury consumers for our spas are back, and it’s dramatic,” Grenoble said. “They’re spending more than 2006 and 2007, which is hard to believe. The guests who come through with the spa programs at one of our properties are spending 100% more than a non-wellness guest. The delta between the two is dramatic. From a business perspective, it gets your attention. But the other thing they do, other than spending more per night, is they stay 30% longer.”
Grenoble and Kelly agreed that profitability stems from a core belief in the benefits of the spa-wellness lifestyle.
“It’s about being a mission-driven company,” Kelly said. “That’s why our customer will spend more. They trust us. But that trust requires us being authentic, transparent and sincere about what we’re delivering.”
Wellness and sustainability
The panelists said the expectations of health and well-being should extend beyond just the guest to the environment.
“We know that 80% of spa goers overlap with people who are environmentally conscious,” Kelly said. “It allows guests to take pride in the fact that they’re going to resorts.”
He said a commitment to the environment is an expectation and not a bonus for fitness-focused properties.
“You’re probably not a leader in the wellness industry if you don’t understand your place in sustainability,” Kelly said.
Grenoble said guests take sustainability so seriously that his property has developed a policy of offering regular back-of-house tours to show off their environmentally friendly practices.