The only real giveaway that the newest high-end gym in Baltimore is different is what’s on the flat-screen TV above the free weights, stretching space with yoga mats, and cardio equipment that includes a state-of-the-art Skillmill treadmill and Concept 2 rower.
The TV, near the entrance to the locker room and private showers, isn’t showing SportsCenter. It displays departure times and gates for flights. That’s because this full-service gym is between concourses D and E at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, through which other passengers are coursing just beyond the frosted glass walls.
The first outpost of a company called Roam Fitness is the newest vestige of the hospitality industry’s response to growing demand from stressed-out travelers tired of sitting endlessly on airplanes, in cabs, and through business lunches, and of having little recourse to work out beyond the dusty treadmills in hotels’ tiny “fitness centers.”
This includes a growing number of yoga rooms in airports, free day passes for hotel guests to neighboring full-service gyms — even hotel rooms equipped with private exercise bikes and weights. So important has this turned out to be to business travelers that a new website rates hotels for them based on the quality of the fitness facilities.
The fitness industry itself is getting in on the action. Brighton-based New Balance and Canton’s Reebok each have deals with hotels that provide their running gear to guests. And major fitness chains including Equinox and Chicago’s Midtown Athletic Club are skipping the middleman and building hotels with massive gyms.
“People are looking for these kinds of options when they’re traveling, and they’re willing to spend money on them,” said Cynthia Sandall, chief marketing officer of Roam Fitness, who, with her cofounder, came up with the idea in business school after living the alternately stressful, sedate, and overindulgent lives of frequent travelers themselves.
“What we were frustrated by was how unproductive and unhealthy we felt,” said Sandall. “We weren’t taking care of ourselves the way we wanted to.”
Roam is negotiating for a second location and hopes to have a third in operation by the end of this year, with a goal of 20 worldwide within five years. Boston is on its wish list, said Sandall, who is from Vermont; a Massport spokeswoman said Logan Airport is “looking at all types of opportunities to improve our customers’ experience.”
Gyms in airports have been tried before without success, including in Pittsburgh and Las Vegas. Now they’re coming back. It’s still an idea that takes some getting used to, as suggested by the fact that Roam has already lowered its price for monthly and annual memberships; a single visit goes for $25, a month costs $100, and a year, $350.
But there’s pent-up demand among millennials for the chance to be active away from home in ways other than running for a flight, said Sandall. “One of the trends I think is really resonating with a lot of business travelers is that when your meetings are done, you want to connect with where you’re staying, or get centered after a long day.”
Roam caters to those millennial travelers by loaning them lululemon apparel and providing electrical outlets in lockers so they can charge their electronics and Malin+Goetz products so they don’t have to open their luggage to fish out soap, and by vacuum-sealing their used clothing so the smell doesn’t waft from their carry-ons.
If millennials in general are fitness-obsessed, people from Massachusetts in particular are even more so. One in four belongs to a gym, the second-highest proportion among the 50 states (just slightly behind Connecticut), according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (it’s based in Boston, of course). The number of health clubs in Massachusetts rose 19 percent between 2011 and 2015.
The timing is right, Sandall said. “Millennials are wanting to maintain their lifestyles and routines on the road.”
Rob Does thinks so, too. He’s the Netherlands-born, Portugal-based founder and CEO of Roundstay.com, which rates hotels (in English) based on their fitness facilities — so far, only in Europe, but with plans to expand to the United States in the fall.
“Business travel can be very demanding, exhausting, and unhealthy,” Does said. He said market research “found that hitting the gym is now one of the most popular ways to spend free time during a trip.” So “we focus on staying fit while traveling by avoiding the disappointment of a crappy gym or kiddie pool in the basement.”
That disappointment appears widespread. Nearly 60 percent of Americans in a survey by the hotel chain Fairfield Inn & Suites said they eat less healthy food when they travel, 57 percent said they work out less, and 49 percent said they experience more stress.
Hotels are scrambling to respond. The Westin chain in April began offering guestrooms with stationery bikes; Westin hotels already loan out New Balance shoes and apparel for $5 per stay, and about 200 of them have “running concierges” who lead group runs. Hilton in late May announced its “Five Feet to Fitness” program, providing not only stationery bikes in guestrooms, but Gym Rax training stations. Fairmont hotels provide their premier-level guests with Reebok shoes, apparel, yoga mats, and stretch bands. And InterContinental Hotels Group has launched an entire brand called EVEN, which has exercise equipment in guestrooms, group fitness classes, and organic food.
Traffic data showed that use of hotel gyms was up, said Hilton senior director of global wellness, Ryan Crabbe, but guests were descending on them at around the same times. Having equipment in their rooms “allows the guest to do the workout that they choose at the time they choose. There are real benefits to convenience and privacy.”
The most ambitious matching up of fitness and travel may be the hotels being built by the fitness chains Equinox in New York and Los Angeles, both opening in 2019, and Midtown Athletic Club in Chicago, scheduled to debut in July. Rather than hotels with gyms, these are more like gyms with hotels attached. The Equinox hotel in Hudson Yards will have the company’s biggest gym yet, with indoor and outdoor pools; Equinox says it’s the first of more than 75 such hotels being planned. Midtown’s hotel has 55 rooms attached to a six-level gym, including tennis courts, that guests can use for free.
Back at the airport, Roam so far appears to be the only gym inside a US terminal beyond the security checkpoint. But there are others abroad, in Changi Airport in Singapore and in two of the concourses of the airport in Dubai. And there are options outside security in airports: the GoodLife Fitness gym in Toronto’s Pearson International Airport’s Terminal 1 arrivals area, for example ($15 Canadian for a day pass), and a new gym, ZEROLevel Fitness, one level below baggage claim in Terminal 1 of McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas ($15 per visit for airline employees and $25 for one-time visits from travelers. Open 24 hours on weekdays).
Some airport-connected hotels also let travelers use their gyms at a day rate, even if they’re not guests, including the Los Angeles Airport Hilton, the Fairmont Vancouver Airport, and the Hilton Munich Airport. (The Hilton Boston Logan doesn’t allow this.)
The newest trend in travel wellness: yoga rooms — in their case, all on the zen side of the TSA lines. You’ll find one each in San Francisco’s Terminals 2 and 3, with a mirrored wall, soothing colors and lighting, and yoga mats supplied, and in the Dallas-Fort Worth International Terminal D, O’Hare International Terminal 3, Midway Concourse C, Frankfurt International Terminals 1 and 2, the South Terminal at London Gatwick, and inside the retail store Lolë near Vancouver’s Gate C31. The Frankfurt yoga room occasionally offers group classes and the one in Gatwick shows Australian yoga teacher Shona Vertue on a continuous video loop leading preflight-specific movements.
The closest airport yoga room to home is at Burlington International in Vermont.
“We do actually find that people use it a lot,” said Gene Richards, director of that airport, which has also replaced a bagel shop and conventional newsstand with a health-food restaurant and a store selling locally sourced, healthy food. “I don’t know if it’s a Burlington thing as much as about the people who come to Burlington — people who are conscious of their fitness. It’s a real opportunity to just kind of get everything in sync.”Jon Marcus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.