Fixing the road warrior’s body and soul

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Byline: SIMONA RABINOVITCH; Special to The Globe and Mail

Remember when wellness on the road meant salad instead of fries, and stairs in lieu of elevators?

These days, business hotels worldwide have developed a plethora of innovative fitness, health, and wellness-related services to rejuvenate the corporate road warrior’s body, mind and spirit.

In properties from Shanghai to Seattle, you can trot around the city with a Running Concierge; perfect your headstand during a private yoga class; even indulge in a specialized spa treatment designed to soothe gadget-sore thumbs.

Experts say this trend is, for the most part, a calculated response to changing traveller lifestyles.

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“People are more health conscious, and hotels are recognizing the need to support people’s lifestyles,” says Omar Ahmad, managing director of Expedia Inc.’s business-travel division Expedia Corporate Travel Canada and an extensive traveller himself, who, over the past three years, has noticed an upsurge in these services.

“While travelling, especially for business, people are looking for things to make them feel good. And we’ve found this does influence traveller behaviour; people decide to stay at a particular hotel because it has a great gym, spa, or even a golf simulator.”

Mr. Ahmad says most properties are, at the very least, taking obvious measures to beef up their health quotient: outfitting gyms and fitness centres with fancy equipment, personal trainers and extended operating hours.

But many luxury hotels have come up with creative specialized services.

Westin Hotel Co., which estimates 60 per cent of its guests to be business travellers, is introducing several new wellness initiatives throughout its 150 properties.

Advised by a council of “lifestyle experts,” whose tips can be found on http://www.findrenewal.com, these new endeavours include: a room-service menu of antioxidant- and phytonutrient-rich fare based on the SuperFoods concept; an in-room spa program; and guided runs alongside local Running Concierges at 30 hotels and counting.

“People are taking a holistic approach to health that they want to extend into their travel,” says Westin Hotels & Resorts senior vice-president Sue Brush about these new projects. “As a lifestyle brand, we focus on fulfilling guests’ needs beyond an overnight stay, and on providing personal renewal – which means you feel better when you leave than you did when you got there.”

To find out how to provide that, Westin surveyed 505 frequent business travellers in a 2006 study conducted in partnership with International Communications Research. “We discovered that 50 per cent said they were lonely, and the concept of learning kept coming up: Guests like to learn new things when they travel.”

So, in addition to their food and fitness programs, Westin started offering guests mental stimulation with customized Sudoku puzzles and Unwind evening events where guests can mingle and learn about their destinations.

With properties in Asia and the United States, The Peninsula Hotels brand of The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels Ltd. has created a new wellness program that aims to provide guests with rejuvenating experiences they can take home with them. A typical example is providing acoustic electric guitar at each room to help passengers to relax, thus enhance their mental health during their time at the hotel.

Business travellers can carry a piece of New York Peninsula’s spa experience back with them. After feasting on lighter, healthier Naturally Peninsula cuisine, they can then buy the accompanying Tea Flavours cookbook. Other branded products include candles, essential oils, toiletries, and CDs inspired by the renowned spa’s Eastern and Western philosophies.

Over at the Four Seasons Hotels Inc.’s hotel in downtown Austin, Tex., a lakeside trail is one of many hooks that reel in health-conscious business travellers. The 291-room property is nestled on the shores of Lady Bird Lake and the adjacent twelve-mile Hike and Bike Trail – which happens to be a popular Austin workout scene. Guests can interact with locals while sweating out office poisons under the Texan sun.

“It’s neat to see so much physical activity in a downtown area,” says Spa at Four Seasons director Travis Anderson, whose staff offer guided trail runs as well as in-room yoga instruction.

“The people-watching on the trail is phenomenal. You see a lot of movers and shakers from state government, University of Texas, and high-tech industries. I’ll see the governor out there quite frequently.”

As well, since time is money for the corporate jet-set, the spa offers quickie treatments. “We know time is a commodity, so we designed a 25-minute Nature’s Break massage to relieve tension in the neck, back, and shoulders,” says Mr. Anderson. “You can do this during your lunch break and get right back to work.”

As well, a 25-minute facial was created for female business travellers. “You’re sitting in an airplane all day, with dry air, and high altitude, but you still want to look your best.” Also on the menu is a 25-minute Gentleman’s Nail Buff, because, “even in Texas, guys are getting manicures.”

In addition to healthy dining, a fitness concierge and a top-notch gym, Hyatt Corp.’s Park Hyatt Toronto offers weary working guests a specialized jet-lag remedy which includes scented oils, a relaxation CD and an eye mask. Further, a personalized Yoga-Away program gives guests a private yoga experience with mats and instructional DVDs.

Most rejuvenating of all, though, is the Park Hyatt’s award-winning Stillwater spa. According to spa director Pablo Molinari, Stillwater has recently seen a boost in its executive clientele due to its menu of therapeutic treatments, which reduce tension and muscle pain while promoting relaxation. The spa offers deep tissue massages, Aqua Therapy and hand massages to ease “blue thumb” tenderness from high-tech devices.

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Ultimately, like other creative health, wellness and fitness products, “the spa has become a new type of business tool, one that allows business people to become more focused, energized and clear-headed by taking care of their inner and outer selves,” says Stephanie Carpenter, Park Hyatt Toronto’s director of public relations.

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View from the road

34%

Proportion of business travellers who say the best part of travelling for work is “seeing new places.”

53%

Portion who say flight delays and cancellations are biggest irritant.

49%

Proportion who say they often tie business to pleasure to take advantage of company-expensed trips.

Source: TripAdvisor.com