Health and Well-Being
By Sam Barry
When Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) was launched in 2000, it spurred sustained attention on the environmental impact of design, engineering and construction specifications and decisions. After a decade of focusing on the effect of design on the planet, the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) helped to catalyze a massive shift toward the health and wellbeing of the people who occupy buildings.
The IWBI was launched following a 2013 commitment from the Clinton Global Initiative; six months later it released a new design standard. Today, over 100 million square feet of space have been WELL certified. So far, three restaurants and 20 retail projects have been certified; the database currently shows no hotels among the 100 million square feet.
Of course hospitality is no stranger to health or wellbeing. For years, nearly every hotel from limited service up has had a fitness center. Most were accessible 24 hours a day and conveniently located next to an over-chlorinated pool. Just swipe your key card and access a couple treadmills, a stationary bicycle and perhaps even an Universal weight machine. Of course some gyms were more extensive, and some upscale or boutique properties mixed in a spa, juice bar or even a yoga studio.
Today, this paradigm is quaintly antiquated. In 2010, Wyndham acquired TRYP, a brand that offers in-suite fitness equipment, healthy snacks, and an “energetic fitness center.” Two years later, Las Vegas’ MGM Grand introduced 41 “Stay Well” rooms featuring wellness amenities such as aromatherapy and air purification systems and access to Cleveland Clinic programs for “sleep, stress, and nutritional therapy.” StayWell is a program developed by Well Building Standard founder Delos, along with holistic medicine guru and Oprah advisor Deepak Chopra. StayWell is “infusing wellness in your hotel room with features and programs to help…minimize the impact travel has on the human body; providing you with better rest, fresher air, personalized lighting and more.”
As StayWell has caught on, the company has added an app that also features a tool to combat jet lag, and launched StayWell Meetings. StayWell Meetings claims to be “the most comprehensive wellness meetings experience in the world, offering premier meeting spaces, state-of-the-art air purification, energizing lighting, nutritious menu options, soothing aromatherapy and other incredible wellness features to help enhance the productivity and overall wellness of attendees.”
Hilton and Westin have upped the ante again, by bringing complete, personal fitness centers into the room. Hilton’s Five Feet to Fitness room concept features equipment for high-intensity interval training, core, strengthening and suspension exercises—plus a Wattbike, virtual personal trainer, meditation chair and blackout shades—for the workout junkie or those not comfortable in a gym environment. Starwood offers curated running routes, workout gear, and in-room Peloton bikes; Kimpton offers yoga in over 65 properties.
This year, health and wellness brands have begun to branch out into hospitality. Luxury fitness brand Equinox, with operates 80 clubs in nine U.S. cities and additional locations in Toronto and London, recently announced it will open its first hotel in New York City. Equinox is also already planning a second hotel in Los Angeles. Similarly, Chicago’s Midtown Athletic Club is adding a 55-room boutique hotel on top of its facilities. The 575,000-square-foot hotel design boasts 15 indoor tennis courts; four pools (one of which can be transformed into an ice rink in winter); a full-size basketball court; several studio fitness spaces; locker rooms; retail and dining options; outdoor and lounge recreational spaces; as well as other hotel amenities such as meeting and banquet rooms, deluxe suites, and a penthouse presidential suite. And for those who prefer a workout during working hours? WeWork has launched Rise by We, a gym concept opening in the coworking centers.
What is the point? Clearly, we no longer want an environment to have a singular purpose, and we’re expecting more from our hotel stay. We even seem to want to stay among our fitness community. What is clear, in the midst of all this change, is that the experience needs to be personalized, and the idea of a one-size-fits-all experience is as broken as the Stairmaster in the 24-hour fitness center in the hotel basement.
Sam Barry is a former principal with Gensler, where he led a Brand Design studio in Washington, DC and a Lifestyle (retail and hospitality) studio in Atlanta, and former Director of Marketing for Shaw Contract and Shaw Hospitality. Today, Sam and his wife Kelly own Innovatude, a brand and marketing strategy and design boutique focused on innovation in the built environment. Sam’s focus is on helping product manufacturers, developers and building owners navigate turbulent times to find points of leverage to forge competitive advantage and significant growth. Sam lives in Atlanta with his wife and two daughters.