Hotel Gyms: To Shut or Use?


By Robert McGarvey

Do you use hotel gyms?

The question is not rhetorical. Those who want should use the comments field to tell their experience of hotel gyms because, frankly, I want to put on the table eliminating them.  Personally I don’t use them, can’t say I have in several decades, and I also don’t know anybody who does.

There are some data points that say I’m nuts – more on them imminently – but my reality is that those who exercise on the road walk around town, or jog, some go to yoga studios, a few diehards belong to home gyms that give them reciprocal use of out of town gyms and that is where they go.

In the latter case, I am assuming they go to a dedicated gym because, judging by the hotel gyms I have looked at in recent years, most seem modestly equipped, with far from the latest gear, and often very small.  That makes sense. Hoteliers pinch pennies where they can and if no one is squawking about gyms, they won’t put money into them.

The analogy is to hotel business centers which genuinely are an endangered species.  

Then too, marketing firm MMGY Global said that in a recent survey it found profound evidence of lack of interest in fitness on the road.  Here’s its data:

  • 57% of business travelers work out less when they’re on the road
  • 59% of business travelers eat less healthy
  • 47% sleep less

Those numbers very much sync with what I hear from fellow travelers.  A small percentage maintain a real fitness regimen on the road – personally I try and usually succeed in walking 10,000+ steps daily when traveling which is surprisingly easy when walking in airports, in Las Vegas convention hotels, and around Manhattan and San Francisco.  Word of advice: use a step counter (apps are standard on both iPhones and Androids). You may be shocked to see how many steps you log in a normal business travel day, especially days when you are in airports.

And yet there is contrary data that say we love our hotel gyms. For instance,  MMGY Global found that nearly half of millennials put a high priority on good fitness options when picking a hotel.  About a third of Gen Xers said likewise. Just one Baby Boomer in four thought this way. So there ae generation differences indeed but if you believe those numbers we very much want to preserve hotel gyms.

A 2016 survey by American Express uncovered similar data. Some 49% of millennials, said Amex, pegged a fitness center as one of a hotel’s most important features.  

Meantime, lobbying group AHLA said that 84% of hotels now offer some kind of fitness center.  

Are they in fact any good? Certainly some hotel gyms are dazzlers but what I have heard from fellow travelers, and have frequently read in reviews posted to TripAdvisor and Yelp, is that a lot of hotel gyms are genuinely mediocre.

Then, too, just maybe the numbers – showing real interest in hotel gyms – don’t add up. Data from the Cornell hotel school suggested that – just maybe – we express more interest in hotel gyms than is reflected in our actual use. Said Cornell researchers: “Of particular interest, the study also found that guests greatly overestimated the likelihood that they would use the hotels’ amenities.”

That Cornell study found stunning discrepancies between our words and our deeds when it comes to hotel gyms.  On average 46% of us say we expect to use hotel gyms. Just 22% do.

Travel & Leisure covered the report in a story headlined: Didn’t Make It to the Hotel Gym? You Aren’t the Only One
It twisted the knife: “Hotel fitness centers are a
neglected—and costly—amenity.”

Those numbers prompted a Conde Nast Traveler story titled: “Is the Hotel Gym Dead?”

Bottomline: sure, there are polls that say we plan to use the hotel gym – but very probably you’ll find us at our desks doing email, or maybe in the hotel bar. Where we won’t be, I believe, is in the hotel gym.

Does this mean it is time to think, hard, about closing hotel gyms?

My vote: yep.

Which brings us to the money question: Do you use a hotel gym?  

Would you pick one hotel over another because of its gym?

I just don’t see it mattering that much, except to those for whom it really matters and quite probably in my experience they have already made their own plans which do not necessarily involve the hotel where they are staying.



15 thoughts on “Hotel Gyms: To Shut or Use?”

  1. I rarely use a hotel gym. Back when I traveled weekly, I would work on long term projects where I would join a gym for a few months (the project’s duration). I later joined the YMCA at home and used the reciprocal privileges which worked out well.

  2. On longer stays, I often use the gym. If I am staying for one night or two, I’m unlikely to do so. Just not enough time between early meetings and dinner meetings.

  3. Since I’m in hotels 160 nights a year – and am addicted to exercise, I would be quite distressed to see hotel gyms disappear. There are huge variations in quality, but even the mediocre ones have enough equipment to do a workout. And if I have to delay a day or so to do weights, that’s not a problem. We’ve come a long way from the gym at the White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou 20 years ago, where the fitness room had three pieces of equipment: an exercise bike, an armchair with a foot massager, and a machine with a vibrating belt.

    1. I remember the White Swan very well. At about that same time I was doing one week a month consulting for the Pearl River Piano Companies that were based there. I, too, use hotel gyms, but there wasn’t much in that hotel.

  4. Most people I know are members of Gyms.
    Most people I know don’t use their memberships. Most Gyms are busy on Jan 2, and by Feb 2 are far less full. People like to sit and watch. (TV, Computer, etc)
    When I travel, I try to use the Gym – or if the weather is nice…Walk around the hotel and see the sights. Having a Gym around is a nice thing to have.
    I can’t imagine keeping most hotel gyms going is that expensive?

  5. As a tail end baby boomer, I’m apparently in the minority of my age group since I use hotel gyms a lot. While my preference is always to get outside for a run whenever I travel, sometimes my baby boomer knees don’t like that idea, so I can only run once or twice a week. The rest of the time, I need to use a bike an elliptical, or even an old fashioned (or newfangled) Stairmaster. Also, sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate (I’m just not a fan of running in the snow or cold rain). I don’t think hotels need to have a fancy gym and they don’t need to be competing to outdo each other, but I won’t stay at a hotel again if they think they can pick up exercise equipment at a flea market and put them in a closet. I am perfectly happy with a gym that is one or two converted rooms with a mix of gym quality (even if they are not state of the art) machines and some ability to do a few weights.

  6. I could not disagree more with the premise of your article/post. Yes, I use hotel gyms nearly every trip I make and they’re an important part of my decision process in choosing a hotel. I prefer Hyatt and Westin hotels because they invest in good quality equipment (Life Fitness or Precor) and avoid hotels that use Star Trac equipment (some Ritz Carltons, various other hotels).

  7. I’m also a tail end baby boomer, travel every week and use the hotel gym every morning at 5am. I also would not select a hotel if it did not have a gym.

  8. I try to use the hotel gym if I am staying more than a couple of days. If hotels are going to charge a “resort fee” then they need to offer something of value beyond a poorly equipped room of mirrors and a couple of silly machines.

  9. I like to work out but cannot justify the space in the suitcase for a pair of sneakers plus tshirt and shorts — when you try to do a week on the road with only 1 carryon case, every cubic inch counts. Therefore, I do HIIT (high intensity interval training) in the room in my underwear and bare feet, following one of dozens of videos i can easily find on Youtube.

  10. I exercise several times a week because I feel it’s the best way to stay out of the hospital and nursing home for as long as possible. The presence of a gym at a hotel is definitely a deciding factor for me. It doesn’t have to be fancy. (And I’d rather not pay extra for it if it IS fancy.) i also like to run outside, but that’s not always possible due to weather conditions and local environment (e.g., lack of sidewalks or running paths). At times I’m forced to work out in my hotel room, but I always wonder if the people below me can hear me jumping around! So put me down as someone who finds a lot of value in the hotel gym.

  11. I use hotel gyms now and then, but I’ retired. I’ll still do a rainy day workout or use the weights or weight machines to keep in shape. When I was working, they were a godsend. So much business travel was suburban, so there was no place to walk or jog. In winter, they let me keep in shape even when it got dark only.

    I don’t think hotel gyms are going the way of room service. (I actually use room service now and then.) They’re an amenity like having a swimming pool or parking. Nowadays I’m more likely to use the gym than the parking lot at an urban hotel.

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