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Getting Guests Outside to Exercise

Nature is en vogue, so hoteliers are creating great outdoor fitness programs for guests.

Friday, July 11, 2014
Caryn Eve Murray
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The tools of hotel-based fitness are familiar enough: Gym staples like exercise bicycles, treadmills, yoga mats, free weights. But now hotels are infusing added muscle into that mix by adding the ocean tides, the rolling hills or an iconic cityscape -- and suddenly the hotel’s location itself becomes a kind of alternative gym for guests. In fact, formal exercise programs in these outdoor settings are creating a whole new realm of destination fitness.

Some workout fanatics never had it so good: At the Waikiki Parc Hotel, a 297-room boutique hotel in Honolulu, yoga and core workout classes are among the new formal offerings now conducted outdoors - in this case, right on the beach.

"It is a beach with a healing legacy," said Julie Arigo, the hotel's general manager, who said the classes are open to men, women and children as part of the hotel's Parc Active program, its outdoor fitness program launched in May. Before then, she said, the hotel's only outdoor formal fitness activities were surfing (including lessons with celebrity surfer, former world champ Hans Hedemann) and stand-up paddling, she said. Now beach walks and power yoga classes are conducted on the waterfront just beyond the hotel itself and there are Zumba classes and aerobic exercises on the deck of the heated pool.

Parc Active’s routines capitalize on the island destination of Oahu, and this focus on the destination as part of guest fitness is a deliberate and mindful nod to lifestyle choices, not just of guests but even hotel management, she said. "It is a fitness and wellness program for our employees too," Arigo said.

"We decided to go with a program like this simply because we are experiencing the need," she said. "Like travelers ourselves, we in our corporate office do this. Our COO happens to be an avid cyclist....I run the marathon in Honolulu and have done it seven times. It is not just us, but a lot of people who make this a way of life," she said.

"And you have to be able to do it when you are on vacation. It is good for balance. People who are on vacation take care of themselves. And business people who are there on business find it is great for destressing and performance." In fact, she said, about 10 percent of Waikiki Parc's guests are corporate travelers.

"Travelers don't pick a hotel. They pick the destination - and then they pick the hotel," Arigo said.

What beaches are to Hawaii, wine country is to some regions of California, and in some cases these grape-laden valleys became established outdoor gymnasiums long ago in guests' fitness portfolios.

"We are in the heart of wine country, and one of the most beautiful places in the country," said Michelle Heston, regional director of public relations for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. "It only makes sense that we would take advantage of our location."

For the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, that translates into organized hikes and cycling ventures to local wineries and to see giant redwoods, as well as soothing yoga classes in thermal mineral pools.

"We are a destination resort and this is so important to our clientele," Heston said. The complimentary guided early morning hikes, which are led by the hotel's fitness director, have been popular for more than a decade. She said the hikes in particular are "a really great value add and an opportunity to get out and see some of Sonoma's finest."

For the bike tours, the hotel works with a local Sonoma company which, she said, creates and conducts tours for their guests.

And water yoga classes are held outdoors in the Watsu pool, created from geothermal springs. "This pool is specifically for water yoga classes," she said, "and our water Shiatsu massage."

Perhaps one of the most intense fitness offerings to be found is at the Hotel Palomar in downtown San Diego: The outdoor morning workout in nearby Balboa Park, complete with challenging terrain and weight-bearing activity, is known unapologetically as boot camp. There is also a scheduled morning run with the general manager along the city’s waterfront. The rooftop pool deck, offering a view of the city below, is the scene of a gentler form of fitness: yoga sessions.

“The participants range in age and purpose of travel,” Drew Parker, director of sales and marketing, said in a recent email. “However, we tend to see more young business travelers who are looking for an intense morning workout – boot camp or run with the GM – or a relaxing way to wind down in the evening with our yoga classes.

Destination exercise such as this lets the hotel contribute to the fitness of the city as a magnet for travelers too, he said.

“We encourage our guests to get out of the hotel and experience the local culture first-hand,” Parker wrote. “San Diego is a very fitness-focused city, so by offering outdoor fitness programming as part of the guest experience, we are engaging the traveler in a unique way, not just with a standard indoor fitness center. This engagement leads to higher guest satisfaction – and that’s where we see the value.”

Like Arigo, Parker is a fitness enthusiast too, and is committed to being active himself when it’s his turn to be the traveler, so he understands guests’ needs to maintain workout routines while on the road.

The hotel also encourages staffers to take advantage of the fitness programs, often right alongside guests. “These experiences, both for the employees and the guests, are invaluable as they create a deep personal connection to the hotel.”

Of course, it’s also an exercise in something else: smart marketing.

“If you’ve ever made it through one of our boot camp classes,” Parker said, “you’ll certainly never forget the Hotel Palomar.”

Caryn Eve Murray
Associate Editor
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Caryn Eve Murray is a freelance writer and an assistant editor on the news desk at Newsday on Long Island. During her tenure as a business writer for New York Newsday, she covered the city's small business community for which she won the Distinguished Business Reporting Award of Excellence from the New York Newspaper Publishers Association. She has also been a feature columnist and writer and has ...
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