Hotel industry to help business travelers keep healthy habits on the road

Nutrition advice, in-room workout programs among newer programs

Travel is an integral part of American business and, consequently, there are a lot of people who find themselves abandoning their normal healthy eating and exercise habits while they are away. Some hotel chains have recognized this tendency, and in an effort to protect the health of this important part of their customer population, are taking steps to steer guests to healthy nutrition and activity options while they travel.

"When people are at home, they might eat a bowl of cereal or something healthy for breakfast before they go off to work," points out John Lee, vice president for brand marketing and communications for Memphis-based Embassy Suites Hotels. "But when they travel, they indulge in breakfast foods they wouldn't indulge in at home — they eat doughnuts, bacon and eggs, and they feel it during the day."

Embassy Suites began surveying its business travelers about their food and activity behaviors on the road, and used that information to create Business Balance, a fitness and nutrition initiative that the chain will debut in January 2007 in each of its hotels in the United States, Canada, and Latin America.

Rick Bradley, former director of the Occupational Health and Fitness Program at the U.S. Department of Transportation, and culinary instructor Paulette Mitchell have helped put together the Embassy Suites program, which hotel industry officers say is reflective of a general trend in the industry to make business travelers feel healthier and more comfortable.

Traveling away from good habits

Lee says guests report they feel more stressed when on business travel than they do at home, and health and fitness sometimes fall by the wayside in the scramble to attend meetings and meet travel timetables.

The hotel industry is well aware "that a room is a room, a bed is a bed," says Lee. According to a survey conducted in 2005 by the Hilton Hotels Corporation, more than 60% of frequent travelers report that business travel greatly disrupts daily activities such as sleeping, eating, and exercise. An evaluation of reaction and alertness showed that travelers who exercised during their business trips performed 61% better than non-exercisers.

Westin Hotels and Resorts conducted a survey in 2003 entitled "Road Runners: Working Out on the Road" to gauge the importance of fitness for travelers, and how easy it was for travelers to keep to their routines when away from home.

Those surveyed by Westin also revealed the following information about travel and wellness:

  • 90% said exercise relieves stress on the road
  • 60% said exercise helps alleviate jet lag
  • 40% said they eat more on the road
  • 17% said they gain weight when traveling
  • 37% said they feel more stress on the road than at home.

Hotels are not alone in identifying the nutrition and fitness needs of the business traveler. AthleticMindedTraveler.com is an online subscription service that will provide wellness and work/life balance support to traveling employees, and to employers whose workers travel.

Runners who are frustrated by an inability to find good running routes in unfamiliar cities were the impetus for www.favoriterun.com, which allows users to locate and map running routes by zip code and map them, find running partners, view pictures of routes, and chat with other runners who are familiar with the city.

"What seemed important [to guests surveyed by Embassy Suites] was reducing stress and reminding them that if they get some circulation going and get warmed up before starting the day, the benefits are enormous," says Lee. "Just getting the information [on making healthy food and activity choices] in front of travelers gives them choice and control, and makes life easier."

Embassy Suites has developed its Business Balance program to include healthy breakfast choices, many of which have been there all along, coupled with information in the guest rooms on continuous loop video, on in-house television, and on cards in the dining room that tell guests what choices they have that are healthier and can make them feel more energetic and alert during the day.

Likewise, some stretching and warmup exercises are on continuous loop on guest room televisions, so even if there's not time for a full workout before starting the day, guests can warm up and get circulation going, Lee adds.

Hotel chains began looking at fitness and stress reduction a few years ago, particularly for its business customers. Many introduced improved bedding and mattresses to promote better sleep, and turned attention to their fitness rooms and equipment.

"When people travel, they get off their routine and they don't feel the same," points out Dawn Ray, senior manager for brand communications for Embassy Suites. "This helps remind them they don't have to get off their routine. They can stay as close to it as possible."

Offer tips for business travel

When employees in your organization travel, there are tips you can provide that might make them more inclined to take care of themselves while they are on the road.

Suggest they pack basic exercise gear — shorts, t-shirt, socks, and running shoes on hand make it easier to take a quick walk or run. It's also a good idea to work out first thing in the morning because, as business meetings turn into business dinners, finding time to exercise gets harder as the day wears on. Also, the benefits of an early morning workout carry through the day.

If your company provides health club benefits, find out if there are reciprocal visitor passes available in the cities your employees travel to most often. YMCAs are easily accessible, and honor memberships from others Ys across the country; if your employees travel often to the same cities, find out the location of health clubs that are easy and accessible at little or no cost.