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Yoga Brings Good Karma to Hotels

Yoga is not for spas anymore, and hotels that are offering varied yoga programs are finding it really impacts the bottom line.

Friday, August 13, 2010
David Wilkening
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High-tech features are often advertised by economically squeezed hoteliers, but they’re finding a new amenity with a lot of ancient karma appealing to their equally stressed guests: yoga.

Yoga has long been a traditional amenity at spas and retreat centers, but in recent years it has spread to mainstream hotels, resorts and tour operators. And it’s helping them stretch their income.

The trend spread from individual hotels to chains such as Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group, which has featured its free program in much of its advertising and promotions.

“You’re traveling? We have two words for you. Remain calm. We’re here to help you do just that, with the first in-room wellness and yoga program in the country,” Kimpton says on its website. “We’re now making it easier for you to maintain the practices that keep you calm, centered and serene, right in your room.”

Kimpton’s program is called “Everything You Need Is In The Bag,” which includes a tote bag available at the front desk with all the familiar yoga props: mats, straps and exercise bands.

“It’s free at all Kimpton Hotels, and it’s just another way we can help you stay tuned in, when travel takes you out,” the hotel chain says.

For better or for worse, yoga has gotten so common it is a mainstream amenity.

“Yoga is becoming a must-have amenity,” similar to Wi-Fi and the Internet, says Chekitan S. Dev, a marketing professor at the Cornell University of Hotel Administration.

“Guests want to be able to go on the Internet and check e-mail, and then take five minutes and do yoga. It’s the yin and the yang of travel,” he says.

A major advantage is that it is not expensive, and it requires little knowledge or experience by participants.

“Yoga retreats are awaiting you around the world,” says Adam Longfellow of AllStays.com. His company has compiled a list of recommended hotels offering yoga at http://www.allstays.com/yoga/yoga-retreats.

He makes the point that yoga is attractive to guests because it works for all budgets…free or perhaps $50 a session.

“The yoga itself can be the center of a guest’s time or just a framework for a vacation. Any combination you choose will let guests come back in better shape, both mentally and physically,” he adds.

One of the early chain hotels to start offering yoga was Fairmont Hotels and Resorts. But some hotels - such as the Savannah House in Himrod, NY, in the Finger Lakes region of New York - have combined yoga with wine as getaway weekends.

“Just the yoga isn’t enough to keep us entertained or maybe not always enough of a draw in and of itself,” says Kristen Ulmer, founder of Ski to Live, which focuses on the mind-body connection of snow sports, including daily yoga. “We’re a short attention-span society.”

Her program is offered at several ski resorts.

One of the latest to start offering yoga is the Liaison Capitol Hill, an Affinia Hotel, which says it recently started offering DC’s only yoga amenity.

Yoga on the Roof offers guests a choice of daily Vinyasa-based yoga classes on its rooftop pool terrace, or a “Tone, Taste, Tan” experience, which is described as a “day-long karma-filled opportunity that touches all the senses.”

“These yoga-centric experiences elevate it as a sophisticated and urban chic retreat we’ve branded ‘Destination Relaxation,’” says General Manager Dani Ehlachem.

“By partnering with Faith Hunter, one of DC’s top yoga teachers, we’re able to offer guests and area residents an escape, setting us apart from other hotels on Capitol Hill and throughout the city,” he adds.

The daily “Yoga on the Roof” program is free for guests, with props such as yoga mats, bottled water and towels also provided free.

The “Tone, Taste, Tan” program is an entire day experience priced at $50 per person. It is held every Sunday.

Reservations are required for both programs.

So far at least, hotels are generally not tracking yoga as a separate revenue stream. It’s usually lumped together with spa services, often for a fee. But yoga definitely can be a money-maker.

“To have a spa can mean a five to ten percent incremental in occupied rooms and an even greater amount of incremental revenue, as those guests tend to spend more than the average guest,” says Bjorn Hanson, Divisional Dean of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management at New York University.

There are various estimates of how many people do yoga but the Yoga Journal puts the number at eight percent, or more than 16 million practitioners. Spending on yoga has also increased every year.

“We are continuing to see strong interest in the yoga component, even through the bad economy,” says Nancy Mertz, co-owner of Sea Kayak Adventures in California. Her company has a “Yoga, Whales and Kayaks” tour.

The future looks promising for the ancient programs.

“More people are worried about their health and well-being,” says Dev of Cornell.

Some chain executives predict yoga will continue to grow in the future.

“We wouldn’t build a spa or gym today without planning a space for an area where you can do yoga,” says Christopher W. Norton, chairman of Four Seasons’ Global Spa Task Force.

Low overhead may also play a part in the future of hotel yoga.

“It’s something that’s operationally easy to offer. It doesn’t require expensive gear or lots of space. The beauty is in its simplicity,” says Niki Leondakis, Kimpton’s COO.

David Wilkening    David Wilkening
Associate Editor
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: David Wilkening is a writer specializing in travel and business-real estate writing. His work has appeared in dozens of publications and dot coms. He never met a trip he didn't like. He is a former newspaperman who worked in Chicago, Detroit, Orlando and Washington, DC, where he was a writer and editor covering a wide variety of subjects ranging from politics to feature stories.
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