Rolling Out the Yoga Mat
LIKE Wi-Fi, on-demand movies and fitness centers, yoga is becoming an amenity many hotels and resorts just can’t do without.
Long popular at spas and retreat centers, yoga classes have been spreading to mainstream hotels, resorts and tour operators over the last several years. As the ancient stretching and meditation practice gained popularity, the travel industry began seeing dollar signs in sun salutations. Soon, yoga classes were showing up on the on-demand channels in Hyatts and Marriotts, and at the Kimpton hotel chain mats and straps were available to guests who asked. Spas and resorts began to tweak their yoga programs by hosting weeklong retreats with yoga masters like Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman, who attracted a cultlike following.
Now, with yoga becoming so mainstream, properties from chain hotels to bed-and-breakfasts are looking for new ways to incorporate it into their programs to pique guests’ interest and reach their wallets.
“Yoga is becoming a must-have amenity,” on the order of Internet access, said Chekitan S. Dev, a professor of marketing at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. “Guests want to be able to stress out and go on the Internet and check e-mail, and then take five minutes and do yoga. It’s the yin and the yang of travel.”
Fairmont Hotels and Resorts is hiring a yogi to work with the brand to develop signature classes for its Willow Stream Spas. The Parker Palm Springs in California built an open-air yoga studio as part of its recently renovated spa, adding to other spaces used for yoga classes throughout the property. The Savannah House in Himrod, N.Y., in the Finger Lakes region started Wine and Yoga Getaway weekends in October that include visits to wineries, and yoga classes.
Dave Romanelli, co-owner of a chain of Arizona yoga studios, who is known for his popular yoga-and-chocolate and yoga-and-wine retreats, is introducing Yoga for Foodies. After an hour of flowing yoga poses, he said, a chef guides participants through a tasting, reminding them that “life is short and we best slow down and savor it.”
The InterContinental Montelucia Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz., which contracted Mr. Romanelli’s company to teach daily classes at the resort in September, is hosting a four-day Chocolate Sabbatical this month.
There’s also something to be said for novelty. “We’re a short-attention-span society,” said Kristen Ulmer, founder of Ski to Live, which focuses on the mind-body connection of snow sports, including daily yoga. “Just the yoga isn’t enough to keep us entertained or maybe not even enough of a draw in and of itself.” Her program is offered at several ski resorts, including Alta Ski Area in Utah April 1 to 4.
Customers say such retreats are appealing because they combine a familiar routine with something new. Barb Harwell, who owns part of a small manufacturing company in Littleton, Colo., already practices yoga but wanted to improve her skiing this year. So when she heard the Osprey at Beaver Creek was offering a ReTreat Yourself getaway — combining yoga, skiing and life coaching sessions — she signed up. “If it was just yoga, I might have thought, ‘That’s interesting,’ but might not have signed up for the whole package,” she said.
Combo yoga is an easy way for resorts to set themselves apart from the competition. The Four Seasons Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru, for example, offers Aqua Yoga in the resort’s saltwater pool. In April, the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa in California will offer Ai Chi/Water Yoga classes in its geothermal mineral pool by combining yoga with Ai Chi, a tai chi-based exercise performed in water. And in March, the Fairmont Le Château Montebello in Quebec will offer a Laughter Yoga class, which combines laughter exercises and gentle yoga breathing with the aim of improving happiness.
Still, more traditional yoga offerings continue to be a draw for hotels and tour operators alike, as nutrition and wellness become a larger part of the social fabric of the United States. “More people are worried about their health and well-being,” said Professor Dev of Cornell. Baby boomers, in particular, he said, are “looking at what’s happening not just outside of their body but at what’s happening inside.”
Hotels typically don’t track yoga as a separate revenue stream. Rather it’s often lumped into spa services. In luxury hotels, for example, yoga classes are increasingly being offered through the spa, often for a fee. “To have a spa can mean 5 to 10 percent incremental occupied rooms and an even greater amount of incremental revenue as those guests tend to spend more than the average guest,” said Bjorn Hanson, a hospitality professor at New York University.
Nearly 7 percent of Americans, or 15.8 million people, practice yoga, according to a 2008 study by the magazine Yoga Journal. While that’s down from 16.5 million in 2004, spending has continued to grow as devotees increasingly view yoga as a lifestyle choice rather than a fad and incorporate it into their fitness or wellness routines. Americans spend $5.7 billion a year on yoga classes and products, including vacations, nearly double what was spent in 2004, according to Yoga Journal.
“We are continuing to see strong interest in the yoga component, even through the bad economy,” said Nancy Mertz, co-owner of Sea Kayak Adventures in Loreto on the Baja Peninsula. Sea Kayak has a $1,095 Yoga, Whales and Kayaks tour, in which each day begins with yoga on the beach, followed by whale-watching and kayaking outings with naturalist guides. The outfit, which started with one yoga and kayak trip with 13 guests in 2006, is now up to three trips a year, one of which is already sold out for 2010.
Whatever the form, however, yoga seems to be here to stay. “We wouldn’t build a spa or gym today without planning a space for an area where you can do yoga,” said Christopher W. Norton, chairman of Four Seasons’ Global Spa Task Force. “It’s a very important component.”
Part of its staying power may have to do with its low overhead. “I’d say there’s a demand for yoga,” said Niki Leondakis, chief operating officer at Kimpton Hotels. “It’s also something that’s operationally easy to offer, relatively speaking. “It doesn’t require expensive gear or lots of space. The beauty is in its simplicity.”
IF YOU GO
Here are some hybrid programs involving yoga created by hotels and resorts to attract guests.
Yoga and Wine Getaway Weekend at the Savannah House Inn, Himrod, N.Y. From $200 for the two-night stay (savannahhousevacation.com).
Ski to Live: Yoga and Skiing at Alta Ski Area, Utah. The four-day camp is $510 (kristenulmer.com/programs/ski-to-live).
Yoga & Horses at Chezacut Wilderness Adventures, Redstone, British Columbia. The five-day retreat is $1,799 (chezacutwildernessadventures.com).
For more on this story, please visit New York Times, Travel Section.