New Healthy Hotels: Good for Your Body and Soul

A friend recalled returning to her small-town hotel room on an extended business trip years ago. It was late at night. Tired and hungry, with no other option, she ordered room service from the limited menu. But within moments she regretted the decision and called to cancel. "Sorry, miss," said the person who answered, confirming her worst fears: "It's too late. Everything's already in the grease."

That's a snapshot of business travel not so long ago. You ate badly, drank too much and often had a hard time getting enough rest on an uncomfortable bed in a noisy room. And fitness options were limited at best. I, myself, dutifully exercised in many so-called "gyms" with no attendants, no towels, not even a window, a couple of pieces of aging equipment and all the charm of a detention center.

Wow, have things changed, at a pace and to an extent that is breathtaking and exciting. Wellness tourism and healthy traveling are at the top of agenda at the upcoming 2013 Global Spa & Wellness Summit, an international organization representing leaders in the spa and wellness industry from over 40 countries. And hotels are offering incredibly imaginative, healthful options so you can return from any vacation or business trip looking and feeling better than when you left. Best of all, the offerings are so varied and enticing that doing the right thing (avoiding overindulgence, sticking to your exercise program) feels like a privilege, not a duty. Here's a very small sampling of the kind of innovations you'll find, and just a few of the places where you'll find them.

Thoughtful, tempting healthy food choices. For several years, the Westin has been featuring "Superfoods RX menus." Now the Fairmont Hotels are offering "Lifestyle Cuisine Plus," and Trump Hotels' room-service menus include vegan, gluten-free and other health-conscious selections. There are even health-conscious menus for kids; Alice Waters, the organic food pioneer, has created organic children's menus for all full-service Hyatt hotels in the U.S. and Caribbean. Smoothie and juice bars are becoming commonplace: At the Four Seasons Biltmore (Santa Barbara), guests can create their own fruit and vegetable combinations.

Fitness options for every need and taste. You can book a room with a stationary bike or treadmill (Westin Hotels) and arrange for in-room personal training session in many places. If you've left home without your workout necessities, you can order up stretch bands, yoga mats and fitness DVDs (select Kimpton, Mandarin Oriental and Sheraton properties, among others) and borrow workout clothing, including shoes (Trump and other properties).

If you fancy a spin, get a complimentary ride at a nearby cycling studio (Indigo Chelsea, New York). Free bikes are also becoming common: At London's 45 Park Lane, "bespoke" Brompton bikes are on loan. In New York, if you dislike the midtown traffic, a "bike concierge" will arrange for you to pick it up in a quieter part of town (Eventi, Ink48, 70 Park Avenue and The Muse).

"Tour kits" such as iPods loaded with local routes and playlists (Affinia Hotels, New York and Washington, D.C.) are designed to appeal to joggers. Hikers and horseback riders can arrange for one-on-one coaching (Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air, Los Angeles).

And yoga is everywhere, in every form, from an in-room yoga channel and aqua yoga (Hotel Wilshire, Los Angeles) to aerial yoga (Fairmont Scottsdale) to sunrise rooftop yoga (Z Hotel, New York). Next up: Hilton Worldwide is testing "yoga guest rooms" with practice areas and mirrors to check your poses.

Aids to ensure rest and relaxation. In addition to incorporating features like "total blackout" technology and adding sleep-inducing natural images and sounds in your suite (Eccleston Square Hotel, London), hotels offer services such as a "sleep concierge" with a pillow menu (Hotel Benjamin, New York), sleep and nap programs that incorporate ambient music and lighting (Hotels Gabriel and Plaza Athenee, Paris) and sleep-inducing Yoga Nidra and herbal massage sessions (Hotel Rio Sagrado, Peru).

Westin was among the first to brand a wellness program with a multifaceted menu that covered everything from beds to workout programs. Now many others are following suit, including the InterContinental Hotel Group, launching its "all wellness" EVEN brand based on "the four pillars of a healthy life": food, exercise, productivity and rest. Even in America's overindulgence capital, Las Vegas, the MGM Grand has converted numerous rooms into "Stay Well rooms," complete with spa menus, aromatherapy and wellness videos from The Cleveland Clinic and Deepak Chopra. And the trend is continuing to gather steam.

"If you build it, [they] will come," was the memorable line from Field of Dreams. It's also true that if you come, they will build it. That is, if health-conscious consumers patronize the places that are offering healthful options, the hospitality business will continue to be transformed.

Then we will see even more establishments luring visitors not as hotels that offer spas, but as wellness centers that offer hotel services. And that's a win-win for everyone.

This blog post is part of a series produced by The Global Spa and Wellness Summit, in conjunction with Global Spa and Wellness Summit 2013 on October 5- 7 in New Delhi, India. For more information about The Global Spa and Wellness Summit, click here.