14 Apr 2024 World leisure: news, training & property
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Health Club Management
2022 issue 1

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Leisure Management - Emlyn Brown


Emlyn Brown

With a background in the health and fitness sector, Accor’s global VP of wellbeing has big plans to harness the power of exercise and wellness. He talks to Kate Cracknell

Accor’s global VP of wellbeing, Emlyn Brown Accor Hotels Group
Pullman is building major fitness facilities for its dynamic demographic Accor Hotels Group
Accor’s Pullman Power Fitness has been developed in partnership with Les Mills Accor Hotels Group/LES MILLS
Pullman Power Fitness is working with Les Mills to indentify gobal fitness ambassadors Accor Hotels Group/LES MILLS
The gym at the new Fairmont Windsor in the UK Accor Hotels Group
Swissôtel in-room fitness, designed by Wallpaper magazine ACCOR-WALLPAPER © David Willen
SO/Sotogrande strikes a balance between socialising and health, with a 2,500sq m fitness and wellness retreat Accor Hotels Group / Lars H.Laursen
The SO/ retreat in Spain offers plenty of outdoor activities, including golf and trekking Accor Hotels Group
SO/Sotogrande is the latest development in the portfolio Accor Hotels Group
SO/Sotogrande is focusing on exercise and recovery Accor Hotels Group / NADIA GUNARDISURYA

What’s Accor’s approach to wellbeing?
We activate wellbeing for our guests via six pillars: nutrition, holistic design, movement, spa, mindfulness and digital, with digital being our newest pillar.

However, the way we combine those six pillars differs across our various brands. We compare it to music, where you use the same notes but combine them in different ways to create unique songs. For each of our brands, we turn the volume up or down on each pillar to differentiate and create unique wellbeing experiences for that brand – experiences that are in tune with the guest profile and demographic.

At Fairmont, for example, we focus on active wellbeing under the banner of Fairmont Fit. This includes a longstanding apparel- and gear-lending service that helps make fitness and wellbeing a defining element of the brand. We have big box health clubs at many of our Fairmont hotels too, particularly in the US and Dubai, as well as an incredible reputation in terms of all our outdoor facilities: golf, canoeing, running trails, hiking, skiing and so on. Getting out into nature sits at the heart of the Fairmont brand experience.

Swissôtel’s Vitality concept is our most holistic wellbeing programme, infusing every part of the guest journey, from fitness to menus and spa treatments, to mindfulness, meetings, guest rooms and hotel design. Swissôtel was one of the first brands to bring exercise into guest rooms in partnership with Wallpaper magazine (see page 42), but the concept goes deeper than that, embracing everything from circadian lighting to mattress quality and an enhanced wellness bathroom experience.

We’ve dialled up on fitness at Pullman hotels recently, creating a boutique gym design to help our guests stay on top of their game. Meanwhile, MGallery hotels don’t tend to have gyms, so there we’ve partnered with Yoga International to provide digital content and organise retreats. At Raffles hotels and resorts, it’s more about emotional wellbeing – meditation and mindfulness.

We believe it’s important to democratise the wellness experience within hospitality, so we’re not only bringing it to our luxury brands, we’re also finding effective ways to bring it across all of our brands.

Even with budget brands such as Ibis, where there definitely aren’t any gyms, we’ve partnered with Red Bull to encourage urban sport and movement, as well as doing things such as turning stairwells and car parks into active spaces with opportunities for exercise.

Tell us more about your movement pillar
Exercise is a vitally important part of our guest experience and arguably the number one priority for us to get right for our guests. It’s also a way to engage a much broader group of people than through spa alone.

The high priority exercise is currently being given by consumers stems from a significant uplift in exercise adoption across society, as well as a change in the demographics of those taking part.

When we look across all of our brands – eco, midscale, premium, luxury, ultra-luxury – we see nearly 80 per cent of our guests are taking steps to improve their health and wellbeing on a daily basis. They’re doing many things, such as 10,000 steps a day and mindfulness and meditation – in addition a large proportion is exercising regularly. We have to allow our guests to continue to do that when they’re in our properties.

We also have to keep up with their rising expectations. Hotel gyms have traditionally not been particularly sophisticated, but for many years neither was the high street gym offering. However, there’s been a huge departure in the complexity, design and exercise experience across the broader health and fitness sector over the last seven or eight years, with consumer expectations now being shaped by the likes of Barry’s, Equinox, F45 and Gymbox.

Our aim is to reflect that within our hotels, so our guests’ experience with us feels consistent with what they enjoy elsewhere.

Fitness doesn’t have to be gym-based, of course: we want our guests to go outside, to be in nature, move around our resorts and locations, use apps for running routes, move their body through yoga or tai chi. We just want them to move.

However, where we create fitness spaces, there’s now a need for a more complex product.

Can you elaborate?
Pullman is the best example of what we’re now doing, with the launch of our Pullman Power Fitness concept.

The demographic of the Pullman brand is young, entrepreneurial, dynamic, diverse – a demographic that places great importance on the gym experience when they choose a hotel. Pullman hotels are generally city-based, too, and spa isn’t a major part of the offering. We realised we had a good opportunity to create an elevated fitness experience that’s motivating, fun, dynamic and with more of a wow factor.

Working in partnership with LA-based Fitness Design Group, we changed the way we looked at equipment selection, moving away from the old approach of 50:50 cardio :resistance in favour of a zoned approach. We have HIIT areas, functional training, video-on-demand cycling, free weights, recovery areas. There are therabands, battle ropes, sledges, kettlebells, air bikes, ski ergs... it’s a dynamic space where the exercise options are far more rounded, interesting and varied than before.

We also worked with Bergman Interiors, who did the interior design for BXR in London, to create a wonderful interior design aesthetic that’s timeless but edgy.

The result is boutique fitness, just without the personnel, because we don’t offer instructor-led experiences. Pullman Power Fitness is a high-value, low-price model, more akin to Holmes Place’s EVO Fitness than the full-service brands I mentioned earlier. However, in terms of atmosphere and function, the experience for our guests will feel consistent with what they experience in their daily lives.

What we do offer, though, is digital workout and class content that our guests can use in-room, in the hotel, outside the hotel and in the fitness areas. We’ve partnered with Les Mills to give all our guests a 30-day subscription to Les Mills On Demand, and have also worked with Les Mills to identify global fitness ambassadors for Pullman Power Fitness.

We’re now rolling Pullman Power Fitness out globally, including the full Pullman pipeline of about 40+ hotels that are in various stages of development. We’ll put it in whenever we retrofit a Pullman hotel, too. Of course, the owners have to buy into it, but with a price tag 12–15 per cent lower than for our previous gym model – for something that’s more engaging – the conversations have been pretty positive.

Explain Pullman Power Fitness ambassadors
We’ve worked with Les Mills to select six ambassadors from around the world to work with our Pullman clubs, elevating awareness and animating potential customers via social media.

They all come from a variety of fitness backgrounds, but crucially they’re all young, up-and-coming, entrepreneurial fitness professionals. We weren’t looking for influencers with a million followers already. We wanted young people we could work with, helping them on their journeys, training them, growing together.

Ultimately, we didn’t want it to be transactional. We wanted it to be aspirational, motivational and entrepreneurial because that’s what the Pullman brand is all about.

Will you sell memberships to a local clientele?
Our primary focus is still our hotel guests, but if COVID has taught the hospitality industry anything, it’s that we should be maximising every single square metre of our space – and that means drawing in our local communities to a much greater degree.

Bars and restaurants are obvious ways of doing this, and we’ve been moving more and more into communal lobby space and communal working too. However, I’m a passionate believer that fitness is the most communal experience you can have, and I, therefore, see the gym experience as one we can really capitalise on from a local community point of view.

With the gym floor space averaging around 125sq m at Pullman, we’ll be looking for perhaps 150–200 local members, with the flexibility to stop and start, upgrade or downgrade, choose from five- or 10-visit packs, monthly, six-monthly or annual membership. Crucially, though, we’re looking to shift the mindset, turning our fitness spaces from guest amenities into revenue generators.

These 150–200 members will spend money in our bars, too, as well as dining in our restaurants and recommending our hotel. And they’ll create more of a vibe in the fitness space, which will improve the experience for our guests; people don’t want to work out in an empty gym. It’s a very strong win-win for everyone.

Of course, we already do this at some of our other hotels, and at a bigger scale where we have big box gyms. For example, The Claremont Club and Spa – a Fairmont Hotel in Berkeley, US – has 3,500 gym members, while Hotel Molitor Paris – MGallery has a couple of thousand. In the UK, we’ve just opened the Fairmont Windsor Spa and Health Club at the new Fairmont Windsor Park Hotel (above), with a fantastic 3,000sq m of wellness and a luxury gym.

Will Pullman compete with high street gyms?
We’re not setting out to compete directly: our hotel guests remain our priority, as I say, and we’ll be selling a limited number of gym memberships. Our primary goal is to provide a fitness offering that doesn’t represent a downgrade from the facilities our now highly fitness-educated guests use at home, ensuring we’re the hotel of choice when they travel.

Although over the years I’ve been asked a lot about fitness brands getting into the hotel space, and whether I was worried about that. The answer is, I’m not at all worried, quite the opposite. Given the thousands of fitness facilities the hotel industry has in central city locations around the world, I think it’s health clubs that should be worried when the hotel industry gets its act together and really gets into the fitness space.

Any news from your other brands?
Our SO/Sotogrande property – operated by Ennismore – opened recently and is what I’d call a semi-destination wellness retreat. SO/ is a young, vibrant, luxury lifestyle brand and in Sotogrande we’ve created a perfect environment for guests to have fun with friends – there’s a great bar and entertainment complex – but they can also eat clean and move well. It provides a great balance, and I think that’s what people want now.

We’ve created a 2,500sq m wellness facility where on one side you have the more passive spa experience – which also includes an incredible yoga studio – and on the other, a best-in-class 250sq m fitness area with a virtual studio for cycling.

Between them is a lap pool. There’s cryotherapy, infrared sauna, flotation and two physio rooms with Hyperice Normatec recovery systems. The idea is that you can train like an athlete, eat like an athlete and recover like an athlete.

The property is surrounded by six golf clubs and there are plenty of outdoor activities and treks too. We’re going to be launching wellness retreats in collaboration with Pillar, which will span nutrition, sport, movement, exercise and spa. The motto: ‘Recover as hard as you train.’

And this is key, because we see recovery as the strongest trend shaping our thinking right now. It’s fundamentally impacting the way we look at our spa design, for example, as well as being incorporated into our fitness spaces.

We see recovery as key to capturing a much broader demographic, tapping into the trend that first saw people want to dress like an athlete – the athleisurewear boom – then train like an athlete, with battleropes and PT, and now it’s about recovering like an athlete with ice baths and percussion recovery. We’re also working on helping people eat like an athlete.

We don’t see this being a Gen Z thing either. Yes, the younger demographic is probably taking it more seriously, but there are a lot of high-spend, high net worth Gen X individuals looking at biohacking and exploring ways to feel better, live better and live longer. We’re very interested in how we can deliver that within our club experience.

We’re also interested in bridging the gap between the exercise experience and the spa experience. People have always seen them as very separate – spa as zen and silent, fitness as loud and sweaty – but actually they work together beautifully and in fact, I think a more dynamic approach to spa and a more holistic approach to exercise would also be interesting. We’d like to see guests and members move back and forth between the two much more: exercising, recovering, exercising, recovering.

What other fitness plans do you have?
We have one brand new project I can tell you a little bit about: Raffles London at The OWO [Old War Office], which is currently under development. We’ll be putting in an elite level membership club in collaboration with an external partner at this flagship location. That’s all I’m allowed to tell you on that for now, though! We’re not able to reveal who the partner will be just yet.

Meanwhile, Swissôtel’s Vitality concept was introduced about five years ago, so we’ll get a refresh in 2022 – just to update it, not to pull it down, and still including exercise as a key aspect.

And although Fairmont is already very fitness-focused, we’ll be upping the ante on the exercise experience there. We’ll be doing it in a different way from at Pullman, though, because it’s a different demographic. We think there’s an opportunity to create more big box clubs – maybe 1,500–2000sq m – with a stronger external membership component.

I’m a big believer in big box clubs, and it goes back to having had eight fantastic, formative years at Holmes Place. Big box has been maligned as a model over recent years, but as the exercising demographic ages, I think it will come back strongly.

The way we design our hotels is changing, too, from a leisure perspective. At the moment, you’ll find the pool in one place, the kids’ club in another, the gym and the spa in totally separate areas of the hotel. That’s not particularly convenient from a wellness perspective, so we’re looking to bring it all together into one area. Guests will then be able to move freely between the different wellness elements: exercising in a great gym, doing some video-on-demand classes, having a spa treatment, going for a swim, enjoying the thermal area or relaxation space, refuelling at a good juice bar, sitting down with their laptop in reception... All of a sudden, we have a club, at which point we can bring in the community. That’s how we’re approaching things at Fairmont.

And then generally, we’re starting to ask different questions around club feasibility when we’re developing hotels. Say we’re putting a hotel into a mixed-used real estate development, or a shopping complex with great car parking, great amenities, great accessibility and great demographics. We should be asking ourselves if a club would work there, and if so, what it would look like: should we be pushing our envelope a little bit on the square metres, taking it up to 500sq m, or even 800 sq m? What would the membership model look like if we did that?

And then, do we locate fitness on the ground floor so it’s more accessible to non-hotel guests? Same question for our bars and restaurants. We need to start thinking about all of these facilities as a club our hotel guests have access to. These are the conversations we’re really pushing on now.

Pullman Power Fitness and Citroën create Fitness Pod concept

Accor – harnessing its Pullman Power Fitness concept – recently partnered with JCDecaux and Citroën to create an autonomous ‘urban mobile platform’ concept that allows people to explore cities while working out.

The Pullman Power Fitness Pod is a miniature gym mounted on self-driving electric vehicle the Citroën Skate. Designed for a single exerciser at a time, dichroic patterns in the glass bubble protect the occupant’s privacy while maintaining a view of the outside.

The pod features a rower on one side and a static bike on the other, enabling the user to work out while travelling through a city; exercising within the pod also charges the Citroën Skate’s batteries. There’s a digital coach on a holographic screen, too, who encourages and guides the user through their workout as well as providing route information and entertainment.

The Pullman Power Fitness Pod is one of three pod concepts created for the Citroën Skate as part of The Urban Collëctif partnership, which also involves outdoor advertising group JCDecaux. The partnership aims to come up with innovative ways to ‘optimise mobility’ so people can reclaim urban spaces and improve their quality of life.

“We’re going to be 60 per cent urban living in the next 15 years, which means we’re going to have to come up with some new systems,” says Accor’s Emlyn Brown. “We were honoured to be approached for this project and excited to see what we could create.

“Could we deliver exercise to your door? Could we pick you up from the airport, making you more time-efficient by allowing you to work out for the journey into the city? We’re some years away from this model happening at scale, but it was great to stimulate debate, and reinforce our commitment to fitness.”

The futuristic travelling exercise pod comes with a holographic coach / photo: ACCOR CITROEN
About Accor

One of the largest hotel companies in the world, Accor employs 260,000 people and operates 5,200 hotels in 110 countries under 40 different hotel brands.

The company, which has its origins in France, has a portfolio ranging from Banyan Tree and Sofitel through Mövenpick and Mercure to Ibis and F1 Hotels.

The company is also investing in the co-working market as part of its overarching philosophy of Augmented Hospitality, having reshaped its core business around a vision of tailor-making services for guests and the local community based on a ‘Live, work and play’ model.

Accor has business accelerator units in distribution, experience design and operations that support its owners and partners to boost their performance.

Read more here: www.spabusiness.com/accorbriefing

Originally published in Health Club Management 2022 issue 1

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