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High-end hotels are moving from being merely hospitality institutions to also functioning as mini fitness clubs writes Syida Lizta Amirul Ihsan
AT Grand Hyatt Tokyo in the swanky Roppongi neighbourhood, the first meeting of the day for guests isn’t at the breakfast table but at the gym.
As early as 5am, its guests, who are mostly business travellers, will flock to the wood-floored centre, packed to the brim with exercise machines.
It’s full house almost every morning. It is normal to have to wait to use the treadmill as guests squeeze in an hour of cardio and a few minutes of weight training exercises before starting their day.
At Singapore’s Fullerton Bay Hotel, guests who go running around the Marina Bay area have fresh towels and cool water waiting for them at the concierge.
“How was your run, sir?” comes the customary, albeit rehearsed, line from the staff, a clear sign that the hospitality and wellness industries have crossed paths.
In a world where travel is rampant and rapid, and health becomes a main concern as lifestyle diseases soar, hotels have transformed themselves from institutions of hospitality and relaxation to mini health clubs where guests keep fit and eat better.
It is no longer adequate for top-end hotels to provide comfortable beds, 30 TV channels and efficient room service.
They are now expected to stock the best gym equipment in town, offer fitness classes or running routes, serve nutritious food with low salt and low sugar options, and top that off with pillows and beds to help ease the most jetlagged of guests.
The Westin Kuala Lumpur hotel manager Benjamin Zahn says the expectations that a hotel has to merely provide a clean room and good service have changed.
“The mindset of guests today has changed and people are thinking more of their wellbeing than they ever did in the past. They look after themselves. They exercise. They look into health and nutritious food, and what is good for their body, mind and soul,” he says.
RUN AND THE CITY
Westin’s focus on wellness is serious. Its popular RunWestin is a complimentary programme offering scenic morning runs to KL City Centre Park.
Led by the running concierge, it takes place on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 6.30am, with warm-up and training tips thrown in, almost as if you have a personal running coach.
And if you haven’t gotten enough of an adrenaline rush from pounding the tarmac, there are complimentary yoga or cardio circuit classes in its gym, decked mostly in Technogym machines, the Ferrari of gym equipment.
In fact, some of the best gyms in the city are not in fitness centres but in hotels, where one treadmill can easily have a five-figure price tag.
Exercise enthusiasts too are often members of hotel gyms, given the service and top-notch equipment.
Hilton Kuala Lumpur offers yoga classes for its guests and is planning to offer even more classes at its Star Trac-equipped gym. In the rooms, it promises good sleep with a pillow menu so guests can choose what they sleep best on.
“Our guests regularly use Lake Gardens as a running route and we provide transportation there on request,” its general manager Daniel Welk says.
At Ritz-Carlton, Kuala Lumpur, a personal trainer is available upon request to assist and create a training programme in its 24-hour gym.
“Guests expect, at the very least, modern health and fitness facilities as well as a wide-ranging menu featuring varied and healthy foods,” says Oliver Ellerton, its public relations manager. “Five-star hotels need to adapt to this and provide what their guests want, otherwise they will not survive,”
HEALTH ON A PLATE
At Ritz-Carlton KL, good food takes centre stage. Ingredients are freshly sourced and where possible, organic ingredients are chosen.
“You can have egg-white omelette (if you don’t want the cholesterol burden of the yolk) with fresh tomato. Should guests have any particular dietary preferences, such as low carbohydrate, gluten free or trans-fat free diets, we are more than happy to oblige,” says its executive sous chef Martin Buchele.
What about a macrobiotic diet a la actress Gwyneth Paltrow? No problem.
“We are able to cater for healthier choices — one such example is a 30-member group which required a macrobiotic-based menu featuring anti-oxidants, no salt, no gluten, no MSG and no trans-fat.”
Welk says Hilton Kuala Lumpur encourages healthier eating by running various promotions at its restaurants.
“Senses, for example, will be promoting an organic menu later this year and our award-wining chef Michael Elfwing is out to show that healthy eating can be delicious,” he says, adding that the hotel does not use MSG in its food.
At The Westin KL, the star on its plate is its super foods. “These nutritional powerhouse foods are jam-packed with nutrients vital to a healthy long life. These are specific fruit, vegetables, grains and proteins that are known to improve well-being and longevity,” Zahn says.
So expect a lot of berries for vitamin C, whole grains for its selenium content and avocados, and nuts for their good fats gracing the hotel menu.
The integration of wellness and health in the hospitality industry is a global wave. In March, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts launched its Colour Your Plate By Sheraton Fitness, a dining programme that makes it easy for travellers to eat healthy. The menu features items with 500 calories or less.
The programme is the latest extension of Sheraton Fitness, programmed by fitness, nutrition and wellness outfit Core Performance. It is available at more than 400 hotels worldwide.
“Travelling used to be an excuse for poor nutrition,” says Core Performance founder Mark Verstegen.
“The last thing people have time to think about on the road is getting the nutrients they need,” adds Amanda Carlson-Phillips, its vice-president of nutrition and research.
“We want guests to feel better when they leave than when they first arrived. In order to achieve this, we have to care a lot about wellness and relaxation,” says Zahn.