High intent, low usage: The tale of the hotel gym

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Fitness equipment appears to be the most underused hotel amenity, as guests regularly overestimate the probability of working out while on a trip, according to a study by the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.

While 46% of hotel guests indicated an intention to work prior to their stay, just 22% ended up using the gym. The gap was the widest at luxury hotels, where only 39% of the people who said they would use the fitness center actually did so.

The study used findings from 33 hotels across six brands overseen by an unidentified "global company that operates midscale, upscale and luxury brands."

In general, guests overestimate the chances of using a hotel amenity, not just fitness equipment. While two-thirds of guests said they intended to use free in-room internet, just 42% did so. Guests were more realistic with bottled water, which was consumed by 49% of guests compared with the 56% who intended to drink it.

The provision of free in-room internet was considered the most valuable hotel amenity in terms of influencing a booking, giving that amenity a positive return on investment. Free bottled water also generated a positive ROI because of its relatively high usage and its influence on return bookings.

On the other hand, hotel owners are unlikely to have a positive ROI for gym equipment, as such an amenity did little to entice prospective guests or ensure their return.

"This finding underscores the importance of observing guests' actual use of amenities before deciding to make them standard rather than relying only on surveys of guests' desire for and intent to use the amenities," the report's authors wrote.

Providing fitness facilities has been topical within the hotel industry in recent years as "wellness" has become a prevailing theme. As a result, some hotels have added fitness-related perks.

For instance, Westin in 2010 began enabling guests who had forgotten their workout clothes to borrow New Balance gear from the hotel for $5. In 2012, Fairmont complemented its Fairmont Fit program by providing guests Reebok clothing, shoes and yoga mats.

Other hotels are providing in-room workout opportunities. In 2012, Tryp by Wyndham opened a New York hotel with guest rooms that could be equipped with an exercise bike or an elliptical machine.

Even Hotels, which debuted in 2014, promotes wellness through the emphasis of high-quality gym facilities and in-room "training zones," where guests are provided with a yoga mat, workout equipment and workout videos.

Kimpton and Radisson Blu loan out bicycles for free at some hotels.

"The high expense and low use of fitness centers may be motivating the trend for hotels to develop access agreements with fitness centers located near the hotel, outsourcing their fitness centers or offering in-room fitness equipment on demand, rather than installing in-house fitness centers," wrote the authors of the Cornell study.

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