Can fitness be a primary booking driver?

fitness booking driverWhat’s your initial thought from the question posed in this article’s title? Likely, the answer is ‘no’. But there are vast changes afoot that may propel fitness to the forefront of travel intent. A key word to keep on the back of your mind is ‘lifestyle’ which comprises a rapidly growing hotel category with the likes of Equinox Hotels, EVEN, TRYP by Wyndham, Fairmont and the many activity-focused retreat centers peppered around the globe.

To start with the first major force that will elevate fitness-oriented hotel experience to higher up in the ‘dream phase’ of bookings is the ever-increasing body of evidence pointing to the direct connection between consistent exercise and longevity. Integral here is ‘consistent’ in that it’s also recognized that a pittance a day is often better than a pound a week. In other words, sitting is the new smoking. Indeed, the desire to sustain the at-home regimen is already spurring far more guests to want to stay active while traveling, especially in an on-the-go manner via quick in-room guided workouts or yoga stretching routines versus blocking off hours at time to head down to the fitness center.

Still, for most guests in 2023, these exercise investments aren’t a ‘must have’ but a ‘nice to have’ when deciding on where to stay. With location, price and other considerations coming ahead of one’s desire for features that enable working out while abroad, we are nevertheless bullish that fitness will rise in the list of priorities for hotel reservations. That is to say, it will soon act as a determining factor (if not already) for one brand versus another within a market, so you better start looking into what you can do to identify then profit from this emerging customer segment.

Boomer sarcopenia

When we look into what else may contributing to the growth of fitness, another big one is, of course, the aging of the baby boomers – the wealthiest generation on the planet for the rest of the 2020s – wherein a hallmark of bodily aging is a natural decline in muscle mass as well as muscle responsiveness, with ‘sarcopenia’ as one of a handful of medical terms to codify this steady, decades-long progression.

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Sarcopenia explains why one’s grip strength is used as a marker for lifespan. For one, a firm squeeze is a heuristic for upper body muscle mass which is correlated with the level of activity a person maintains as they age and the health of the circulatory system.

But equally as significant is the ‘healthy user bias’ within scientific research on grip strength in that upper body muscle helps to prevent a fall from being fatal and therefore prolongs the lifespan of those that regularly lift weights versus that don’t. While the occasional trip or accident is a matter of chance, when you are able to do a pushup or forcefully brace onto a nearby tree branch, you are thus able to use your upper body strength as a ‘preventative’ force to lessen the momentum of a fall, reducing the damage of the impact. Lest we forget that it was only a century ago – before the days of acute healthcare – when ‘falling on the stairs’ or ‘tripping on the sidewalk’ was a common cause of death.

The medical community recognizes this relationship and doctors all over the world now recommend weightlifting to their patients. However, age-driven sarcopenia is usually accompanied by the loss of integrity in the joints, ligaments and tendons, leading to chronic pain that can prevent someone from working out at a high intensity. The big opportunity for hotels and resorts therefore resides in wellness programming that caters to the management and amelioration of this pain by way of various forms of physiotherapy, massage therapy, mobility training, isometrics, yoga, pilates, stretching classes, aquafit classes and tai chi.

Strength versus stability

Here’s another way that hotels can derive value from the growing demand for fitness that deserves some explaining. In any discussion of physical exercise, it’s important to differentiate between strength training and stability, mobility or balance work, with the latter arguably far more important for longevity and overall quality of life.

When we speak of weightlifting, many still have a stereotypical image of brooding hunks doing bicep curls or chest presses. Far less often do we mentally conjure that of balancing on one foot, squatting on a BOSU ball or using a TRX suspension system. And for reference, when we speak of ‘mobility’ we are referring to someone’s strength combined with their flexibility, as reflected in their ability to comfortably move their body across a wide range of motion at each discrete joint.

While classical barbell weightlifting is better able to drive up the heart rate and induce muscular hypertrophy for a metabolic, fat-burning boost, mobility and stability exercises work to improve mind-body connectivity, joint elasticity and the responsiveness of individual muscle striations (the units within a muscle) to thereby promote better bodily alignment and smoother joint tracking across the entirety of one’s range of motion. To put it bluntly, without joint stability, you would be in near-constant pain, preventing you from vigorously exercising and inevitably shortening your lifespan.

A simple way to think about this would be like comparing the human knee to a train chugging a track with two rails. That screeching sound a train makes as it rounds a curve results from an imbalance of weight or momentum on one side versus the other, which can be seen as analogous to the perceived pain from an uneven loading on the medial or lateral meniscus within the knee joint. Many in this situation would opt for a knee brace, but that’s only palliative and doesn’t correct the underlying issue. The real solution is to realign the loading of weight back onto the middle of the train tracks – in this case, the center of the knee – by looking at how certain muscles of the thigh are firing in tandem as well as the holistic functionality of the hip and ankle muscles.

Differentiated fitness offerings

To that end, hotels need not simply replicate the nearest commercial gym or what customers can do at home, with mobility or physiotherapy assessments representing a great tool to differentiate a brand’s fitness offerings.

If only people knew the critical importance of mobility, then every single physiotherapist on the planet would have a full schedule. But alas, this isn’t the case and therein lies the opportunity for hotels to inspire change in their guests by presenting these experiences – encompassing one-on-one assessments or guided classes – to them while they are in a more receptive frame of mind to try them out. Caveat emptor: this ‘sampling’ still requires a bevy of good product messaging and contextual marketing to make it worth.

While the luxury resort segment already excels in this area, the overall aging of the population combined with the increasing number of younger travelers who recognize the value of exercise will together serve as prime turf for fitness programming expansion. And because such experiences help guests live better back at home – what’s known as ‘transformation’ – a secondary benefit will be enhanced loyalty and increased customer lifetime value.

To return to the question from the title, can fitness be a primary booking driver? Yes, it definitely can be. More importantly, it should be, because all it takes is one bad fall, assisted by sarcopenia and a loss of balance, for your life to change forever. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say. The most successful hotel brands in the near future will be those that identify a growing demand and work to serve this desire with approachable and appropriate experiences and our hope is that you can develop a process for continual evolution of your fitness programming to capture a slice of this ever-growing pie.

This article may not be reproduced without the expressed permission of the author.


Tags: bookings, Differentiated fitness offerings, fitness, sarcopenia

Managing Partners at Hotel Mogel Consulting, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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