More hotel chains are making it easy for their guests to work out on the road. Marriott International Inc. recently announced that it is advancing its Renaissance Clubsport fitness resort concept, combining the boutique-style ambiance of the Renaissance Hotels & Resorts brand with a sleek, 75,000-square-foot, upscale membership fitness club. The hotel plans to open 15 locations nationwide over the next five to seven years. Is this a sign of the times? After all, Marriott isn't the first to try this concept.

A few years ago, Starwood led the initiative with the introduction of the WestinWORKOUT. Starwood continues to fine tune and build more offerings around the program (in-room fitness and various other products). The program provided a structured platform to ensure guest satisfaction, deliver a consistent experience for the guest and achieve brand recognition among the health travel set or those who wish to appear fit. Prior to the Westin program, most hotels had a fitness component, but it was based around the Forrest Gump principal (like a box of chocolates, you never know what your gonna' get).

The changes we're seeing in hotel fitness are welcome considering the fitness industry's poor track record in that area. Prior to the launch of its WestinWORKOUT program, Starwood hired an outside firm that surveyed 300 business travelers and found that 64 percent thought hotel fitness rooms “seem like an afterthought,” 75 percent found centers inconsistent from hotel to hotel, and 55 percent decided not to use a fitness facility because it was in such bad condition.

Recently, the trend seems to have focused on the “in-room” component. Before opening any Renaissance Clubsports, Marriott is offering its Great Health — Fit For You in-room fitness program, which offers guests specialized equipment that provides a variety of strength-training and aerobic exercises.

Wyndham International debuted its No Shoes? No Problem! in-room exercise DVD so its guests have a convenient, user-friendly way to work out.

Hilton Hotels' guests can reserve rooms with treadmills for $15.95 a day, but for no charge, Hilton's guests now are offered in-room mini-gyms, thanks to the company's new partnership with Bally Total Fitness. These Bally-designed kits include yoga mats, elastic bands and hand weights. As part of the partnership, some locations offer personal training sessions through Hilton's Personal Performance Leader.

Still, in-room fitness options aren't enough for some hotel guests. That's why Marriott International is branching out to its large club model — and seeking a piece of the larger club market — by offering memberships.

However, the market is so competitive right now that some people claim supply has outpaced demand. This is especially true in A markets, but some opportunities still exist in B markets. So will Marriott be able to make any inroads into this highly sought-after market? And will the club market match the characteristics that make a successful hotel?

Some sophisticated players in the fitness industry have good funding in place. The valuation of Life Time's stock is indicative of that, as well as Town Sports International looking to make a public offering. These larger groups have developed sophisticated proprietary site selection processes.

For its Renaissance Clubsport facilities, Marriott will have to do a SWOT analysis (strength, weakness, opportunity, threats). What happens when you develop a large club like this and a big box, low-price operator opens two blocks away? LA Fitness and Planet Fitness are two examples of companies that move into markets with a proven demand for fitness (i.e. a lot of clubs) to offer a nice product at a low price and then suck the members from the existing clubs' membership base (these clubs often hear a big whoosh going through their front doors as members leave).

Hotels are known for their hospitality and customer service, but large-scale fitness facilities can seem impersonal and intimidating to a hotel guest who just wants a quick, efficient workout (always offer a small workout facility within the hotel as a second option). When I recently worked out at one large club attached to a hotel, it was obvious to me that the staff cared more about the members than the “once-in-awhile hotel guest.” Hotels entering this large club market must remember their roots, otherwise, it reflects poorly on the hotel's brand. Let's hope that Marriott and those who follow get it right.


Glenn Colarossi is the president of Colarossi Spa & Health Club Consulting & Management. He has worked on projects throughout the world for five-star clients. He can be reached at 203-357-7555 or at www.healthclubandspa.com