Hotel fitness centers are a neglected—and costly—amenity.

By Christopher Tkaczyk
February 15, 2017
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A new study from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration measures the usage rate for three hotel amenities: complimentary bottles of water, free in-room Wi-Fi, and fitness centers.

The authors of the study were given access to the financials of 33 hotel properties at six brands operated in the U.S. by an unnamed global hotel company (three upscale and three luxury brands) to determine the return on investment for those amenities. "There’s a contentious debate between brand managers and hotel owners about the cost benefit of all these bells and whistles and whether there’s any payoff," said Chekitan Dev, an associate professor at Cornell who was one of the report's three co-authors. Over an eight week period, they also surveyed 782 hotel guests before and after their hotel stay to determine anticipated use compared to actual use.

“Our data show that guests overestimated their projected use of most of the 50 amenities we measured. This is an important finding, given the cost of providing many of these amenities,” the authors state.

According to the researchers, onsite fitness centers were among some of the more underused amenities. Nearly half of guests surveyed said they expected to use the hotel gym, but in the follow-up survey 22 percent said they actually used it. The drop off in engagement can be attributed to a variety of things, Dev told Travel + Leisure. "We're not sure if it's social desirability, as in the guests are trying to sound like they're following a healthy lifestyle. Or if they're business travelers who are working long hours and run out of motivation to use the gym."

The free bottled water and in-room Wi-Fi showed higher participation rates across all six brands, though all three amenities were used less than intended. Fifty-six percent of hotel guests said they expected to drink the free bottles of water, but 49 percent said they opened them; 66 percent said they wanted to use the free Wi-Fi, but only 42 percent logged in.

Onsite fitness centers are one of the most costly hotel amenities, owing to staffing, equipment maintenance, and sanitation costs. They're also the "holy grail" of hotel amenities, Dev said. "Everyone thinks that it's got to be there, but in some circumstances, it may not be the best investment." Onsite fitness centers usually take a bit longer to have a return on the hotel owner's investment, compared to cheaper amenities like bottled water and free Wi-Fi.

“The high expense and low use of fitness centers, for instance, 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,” the report states.

In recent years, hotel companies have experimented with in-room fitness amenities. Kimpton properties have yoga mats in every room, and the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner offers specialized guest rooms that have yoga equipment, cardio machines, and spin bikes. In 2014, the Intercontinental Hotels Group launched the wellness brand EVEN with guest rooms that have fitness equipment and workout videos.