I established a 24 hour gym brand in New Zealand in 2009 and in this article I will reveal some insider secrets to running a hotel gym for the best guest experience.
Exercising releases endorphins and dopamine and just makes guests happier. That can only be good, but the hotel gym is often hidden at the end of a winding hallway somewhere in the basement.
Such a simple concept. But just making guests aware that you have a fitness facility is the first challenge. This can be done with all your guest communications such as automated emails, printed welcome letters, photos in hotel compendiums, signage in lifts showing which floor the gym is on etc.
The biggest barrier to a great hotel fitness guest experience is simply that guests were not aware of your gym in the first place. Or that they intended to use the gym, but simply couldn't find it!
Front desk staff can be trained to mention the gym to guests that meet certain criteria. If the guest is clearly "fit" then they are probably interested in the gym. This is no different to mentioning to a family checking in that you have a kids room. It's about being selective with your communications wherever possible.
Or in other words, it's about giving the guest just the right information, at the right time.
There are other ways to promote the location of the gym such as on the back of the front door of hotel rooms (along with other critical information such as guest checkout times etc, location of restaurants etc) and also through better "breadcrumb signage" (i.e. the use of more than one sign along a long corridor that guests can follow and not give up).
Now if you think I am exaggerating or are talking about a problem that doesn't exist, here is a photo of the gym entrance I snapped just two weeks ago staying at a new four-star hotel in Brisbane...
You can see the nice sign for the POOL but that's right—the gym has absolutely no sign!
Now while it's not really common for a hotel gym to have no sign at all, it is just another example of a hotel gym being neglected.
It took me about ten minutes to find the gym. I knew it was on floor two because the hotel compendium gave me a head start. But the instructions were more like a hint you might get on a treasure hunt...
So I knew it was on floor two, but exiting my room (on floor 2) I had no idea down which end it was! So I walked to the lift entrance in the hope there was a sign pointing in the right direction. Of course, there wasn't a sign anywhere, so I had to flip a coin and guess which end of the (very long) hallway I should try first.
During this process I had to check every door from the hotel lifts to the end of the corridor, making sure it wasn't the hotel gym door I was looking for.
At least I was getting some exercise right?
Naturally, I chose the wrong end and then started the hike back the other way down the corridor again, approximately several hundred metres back.
Meanwhile, a young lady waiting at the hotel lifts was beginning to think I was stalking her as I passed by yet again looking around for any hint of where the gym was located...
I then started thinking about the other guests in the hotel. Considering most guests would be visiting the hotel pool which was next to the gym, that means (statistically speaking) 50% of the guests using the hotel or pool would actually choose the wrong end of the corridor!
That is an incredible number of modestly dressed and lost guests everyday traipsing down the hallways and all because of the lack of a $30 sign in the lift foyer indicating which way to go.
No doubt this is a growing pain for this new hotel, but it does highlight the importance of communications and how poor communications can impact on the guest experience.
These sort of problems are compounded in Australian hotels with their low staffing levels. In South East Asia even a four-star hotel gym would have had a reception and been staffed, but in Australia - you are on your own, which is all the more reason to pay attention to signage.
And when I finally found the gym I was confronted by this ugly and terrifying towel bin which dominated one corner of the room. It was another reminder of how hotels just seem to forget about their fitness areas. It was big enough to store a dead body. I didn't look inside...
Please don't do what I have seen some hotels try to get away with—shoving gym equipment in a spare hotel room. That is better than no gym at all, but it's never a fantastic experience.
Problems with this approach include the awkwardness of being inside a poky hotel room with sweaty strangers, the restrictive low ceiling height and the complaints from guests on lower floors about weights being dropped.
In Room Workouts
If you really don't have space for a hotel gym, then there are other in-room exercise options. There are many compact treadmills that can literally be wheeled into hotel rooms on demand. This could be an upsell on a room as a package or arranged by calling reception.
Westin pioneered this and still offers these 'In Room Workout' equipped rooms for a small extra fee. There are sensible options for treadmills, stationary bikes or dumbbells.
One of the issues associated with this service is the dropping of dumbbells. There are soft padded dumbbells that can be purchased from suppliers on Alibaba for example. These will also prevent the floor from being damaged which is another potential problem. Unfortunately, they normally come in bright pastel colors likes pinks and blues and aren't heavy enough.
The higher the dumbbell weight though, the more potential for damage or injury. While many people might want weights in excess of 12.5kg's there does have to be consideration for other guests if when weights are dropped.
One potential solution is to offer these exercise equipped rooms at ground level so there are no issues with weights dropping.
There are three approaches as I see it to providing in room exercise. Either offer to fit out a room with the desired equipment "on request" either at time of booking or calling reception, have dedicated "in room" packages that include exercise equipment or place "basic" exercise equipment in each room (in the closet or under the bed for example).
You will find that "in room" workout packages are very popular with women. Women in particular have been shown in surveys to really dislike using hotel gyms. This is for many reasons, the unfamiliarity of them, the privacy and safety concerns and just the sheer inconvenience.
Also, women prefer to shower immediately after working out and apply their make up in privacy which they can do in their room.
Amenities in Hotel Gyms
Hotel gyms often overlook essentials that even small gyms require. For example, it is common to see hotel gyms use wooden flooring and not utilise proper rubber safety matting.
Of course this makes the hotel gym look better in photography, but it makes working out properly difficult and is potentially a health and safety issue (spilt water or sweat on a wooden floor is an obvious safety hazard).
Rubber dumbbells even if they are made from the highest quality rubber will still mark a wooden floor over time which is another outcome.
So you do need rubber matting throughout the gym free weight area preferably placed on top of the existing carpet. When placing rubber matting on carpet bear in mind you will absolutely need some carpet tape to ensure it stays in place!
There are also hybrid options for flooring which look like wooden flooring but are actually have rubber backing and are designed for commercial gym use.
Here are some of the simple things that hotel gyms often miss.
- An analogue clock on the wall with a second hand. This is essential for people timing their sets - not so much for telling the time!
- A set of scales that are actually accurate are important (commercial grade electronic scales are very accurate and cost much less than commercial analogue scales).
- A water cooler is often found in hotel gyms which is great, but the problem with those cups is that guests leave them around the place. Therefore, a water cooler with a simple fountain is preferable unless housekeeping is making very frequent visits and can also top up the cups and remove the discarded ones.
- Mirrors are critical and the more the merrier. Having said that, they are only really essential in the free weight area, but with a gap of about 50cm at the bottom otherwise dumb bells will damage them.
- Extra instructions on equipment if required, printed according to your brand requirements. This is for both safety reasons and to make the experience easier for guests.
- Heavy enough weights! There is nothing worse than discovering that your "fully equipped" hotel gym has weights that stop at 10kg's.
- A defibrillator and first aid box inside the gym because this is the most likely place a guest may have a heart attack or injure themselves.
- Accessories! They are cheap and can really add to the impression that the gym is better equipped. Bosu balls, skipping ropes, medicine balls, exercise mats, exercise balls, ab rollers, steppers, stretching poles are all valid additions and will be appreciated by guests.
- Last (because it seems to be common in most hotel gyms) it is nice to have some towels available for guests to use inside the gym. My recommendation is navy blue towels which will not show makeup or other dirt and keep for longer. Of course, this will depend on your brand colours though.
Twenty Four Hour Access
Ideally the hotel gym would be open 24 hours a day. This shouldn't be a problem if you have 24 hour reception. If not, then you may need to close it after reception closes unless you install access control on the doors and have security walk-throughs.
With CCTV on the front desk staff can monitor the gym cameras and there is less need for emergency buttons like in other public 24 hour gyms.
CCTV also helps for investigating any safety issues and gives peace of mind for any guests working out alone.
Having a phone connected with a an automatic call through to reception is ideal and can be a substitute for an emergency button. Place it at a low level so it's accessible for anyone who is unable to get up due to injury and can crawl to the emergency phone.
Partner with a Local Gym
If you can't do any of the above and you are a smaller hotel a great way to keep guests happy is to partner with a local gym to offer access for guests.
This is worth negotiating with the local gym owner for a usage arrangement. Choosing the closest gym to negotiate first is probably the best way to start.
If it were me, I wouldn't negotiate for use of the gym by members for a fixed price. I would simply do a contra deal which of course means swapping services of like value.
They gym could also give away these free stays as promotions in the gym to encourage members to complete surveys, refer friends and other promotions. Gyms can always use gifts for their promotions and people are always looking for "escapes" even if it's a night at a local hotel.
So let's say you are a small 12 room boutique hotel in the inner suburbs of Sydney. You might negotiate a $7.50 contra on a room for every person who uses the gym. For every 30 gym visits you can gift one nights free accommodation and it costs you very little.
When promoting the gym, I recommend sending people to reception to get a voucher they can present to the gym which also has a stamp or management signature that they have been verified. This means that the gym will be comfortable letting them work out without the normal checks.
It also means that people cannot use the gym again after they have checked out!
And remember - when guests do use the gym you are investing in an amazing guest experience which will result in better reviews online and raving fans.
Don't Overlook Maintenance
How many times have you jumped on a treadmill or bike in a hotel only to find it's not working, or it's squeaky or in poor repair? You see this everywhere even at top hotels.
The last time I saw this was in a 5-Star hotel in Shanghai where I noticed at least three issues inside the gym. Granted I do this thing for a living — but gyms for some reason are commonly neglected by hotels and these things do get noticed and turn up on TripAdvisor all the time...
It should go without saying — but all equipment should be maintained properly at all times or "Awaiting Service" signs placed on the equipment that is in the process of waiting for a part or service.
At Burn 24HR Fitness in Auckland, New Zealand we had two types of signs laminated on A5 card. One was titled "Some Issues" and the other "Do Not Use" for safety issues. Being laminated, it was possible to use a whiteboard marker to write the problem on the card with the estimated repair date.
This worked well to assure guests that we were aware of the problem — and also meant that in many cases where the issue was not serious they could continue using the equipment.
Some of the critical routine and general maintenance required for a gym include:
- Lubricating treadmill belts every three to six months. This is critical not only to prevent premature damage and strain on the motor, but also reduce noise and power consumption.
- Lubricating the strength equipment to ensure it has smooth linear operation. Replacing cables before they fray and break!
- Repairing worn upholstery at the first sign of wear, otherwise it may deteriorate and start damaging the underlying foam.
- Using suitable cleaning and disinfectants on gym upholstery designed for purpose not just whatever the maid or cleaner has "at hand".
- Testing the functions of all equipment every fortnight at least including the heart rate monitors and TV screens as these often fail over time.
- Ensuring the gym is cleaned more than once per day including the wiping down of equipment.
- Make sure those mirrors are polished clean! Nothing looks worse than dirty or smeared mirrors in a gym and it makes a huge difference to the perceived cleanliness.
- Ensuring exercise balls are correctly inflated.
- Keeping the exercise mats clean and in good condition and replacing them periodically.
Guests might just spend more awake time in the hotel gym than their actual hotel room. While people may not have high expectations about hotel gyms, it is absolutely an opportunity to pleasantly surprise them by raising the bar.
A few tweaks to your existing gym product, or some clever partnering with local gyms can make all the difference to the overall guest experience at your hotel.
Chris Jack is the editor of Locus Focus and a professional hotel photographer based in Brisbane with over 20 years experience in digital marketing. He also hosts the weekly "Sharper Hotel Marketing" podcast.