By TAMMY La GORCE
February 27, 2017
James Giannantonio does not consider himself a fitness maniac. But Mr. Giannantonio, a 31-year-old Philadelphian, knows he may appear that way when he visits New York.
“I have the same routine every time I come,” he said. “I check in, then I take out the yoga mat in the little workout area they set up in each room, and I do some stretching and light yoga for 20 minutes. Then I head down to the gym and run on a treadmill for 35 or 40 minutes.”
Mr. Giannantonio does this every other week, when he stays at Even Hotels Times Square South. His job as a project manager for the energy company Veolia, based in Paris, requires the frequent hotel visits.
“The thing is consistency,” he said. “If I’m coming here, I know I’ll be engaged enough to want to work out.”
Mr. Giannantonio may be just one of millions of millennials inclined to pick a hotel based on its ability to help them stay fit. A 2016 survey by the travel and hospitality firm MMGY Global found that nearly half of millennials said a premium fitness center with options for on- or off-site exercise classes was influential when they chose a hotel, as opposed to more than a third of Generation Xers and fewer than a quarter of baby boomers. (MMGY Global’s study counted millennials as those born from 1980 to 1998.)
Other studies have also shown the wisdom of using fitness to market to millennial travelers. In the summer travel tracker survey conducted last year by American Express Travel, 49 percent of millennials said they viewed an on-site gym as one of the most important features at a hotel.
Hotels have been moving in that direction. The American Hotel and Lodging Association found that 85 percent of hotels had fitness facilities last year, up from 63 percent in 2004.
Hotel chains like Even, which has six hotels and five in the pipeline with rooms starting around $199 a night, are doing more than offering fitness options. Everything from the green smoothies served at its Cork & Kale cafe to the mesh bags offered to guests to deposit their sweaty workout clothes in — the clothes are returned washed, dried and folded within two hours — is tailored to the idea of promoting health.
Wellness, actually, is the preferred term.
“When we developed Even Hotels, the world didn’t need another hotel brand,” said Jason Moskal, vice president of lifestyle brands for InterContinental Hotels Group. “What the world needed was a place that would help them maintain their wellness.”
Millennials, Mr. Moskal said, are “a significant number of our guests, and wellness is at top of mind for that demographic.”
Thus, every Even hotel room has a standup desk and a so-called workout zones, which include the yoga gear that Mr. Giannantonio regularly uses, as well as resistance bands, ottomans that double as workout props and a television with 20 workout videos. The 1,500-square-foot fitness center at Even Times Square South has premium treadmills made by Woodway, among other high-tech machines.
Even Hotel general managers are not referred to by that title. Instead, they are called “chief wellness officers.” Among their responsibilities are arranging and leading group runs for guests unfamiliar with the city in which they’re staying.
Dieter Schmitz, chief wellness officer at Even Times Square South, said he runs with guests to the Hudson River and back at least once a week.
“Sometimes it’s only one person with me,” Mr. Schmitz said. “But people like the flexibility of being able to work out with someone else or work out alone, in their room. So that’s what we offer.”
Flexibility, according to Claire Bennett, executive vice president for travel and lifestyle services at American Express Travel, is crucial to attracting millennials. And that is why more hotels are offering options like on-site personal trainers, sneaker-lending programs and ClassPasses to local boutique fitness studios.
“Major hotels are realizing that putting fitness first matters to this demographic a lot, and that they need to have options so working out doesn’t feel like a chore,” Ms. Bennett said. “And if they can incur something unique to the location, that’s sort of a nice balance. The days of the old treadmill in the basement, that’s not really the strategy anymore.”
Fun, she said, has also become a priority to hotels courting millennials. “They want to have the kind of experience they can post on Instagram,” she said.
At Kimpton Hotels, a 63-property chain with rooms that average $233 a night, options that seem especially Instagram-worthy include a rock-climbing wall and monkey bars at the Kimpton Alexis Hotel in Seattle, pickup basketball games with a former college basketball player who is also a bellman at the Kimpton Hotel Vintage Portland and kayaking at the Kimpton Onyx Hotel in Boston.
“The idea is fitness for life,” said Jenne Oxford, general manager of the Kimpton Alexis. “And if you’re going to be fit for life, why not make it fun?”
Ms. Oxford said she had gotten used to hearing the term “functional fitness” from millennial guests, which is why her hotel’s approach to exercise includes access to yoga and other classes, and to standard equipment like free weights and stationary bikes.
“Functional fitness is where you do things that will make you better at the things you do in normal life,” she said. “For example, if you’re a parent, you want to be able to squat down and play with your kids, so you’ll do exercises that help with range of motion. Or if you’re a skier, you want to be able to ski better, so you work out with that goal in mind.”
Ms. Bennett said Westin Hotels and Resorts had become a favorite among runners because it seek to optimize a runner’s stay.
Brian Povinelli, Westin’s senior vice president and global brand leader, said RunWestin, a program begun in 2012 with New Balance, had several parts.
“On the simplest level, every hotel features a running map and three- and five-mile routes,” he said. “And we offer the amenity of, when people are coming back from a run, they’re given a towel and a bottle of water.”
A sneaker-lending program lets guests borrow New Balance shoes, and a “run concierge” will customize maps for sightseers. For example, Mr. Povinelli said, “Westin Maui has a run through the Black Rock formation, where people dive off the end.”
“That’s a great Instagrammable moment,” he added. “And when you get into Seattle, the Westin there has a run around the Space Needle.”
Westin guests, like those at Even, can avoid the monotony of running alone. “This desire to work out in a group, rather than as a solitary experience, is something we’re really seeing driven by millennials,” Mr. Povinelli said.
“So one of the things we’ve developed over the last 12 months that a lot of the hotels are doing,” he continued, “is what we call ‘sweatworking,’ where you’ll have a group run in the evening rather than in the morning, and then you’ll sit down and have cocktails or refreshments together afterward. It takes on a social aspect and becomes almost like a networking opportunity.”
Millennials, Ms. Bennett said, are “setting the bar high for diversity and newness.”