A Healthier Hotel? It's More Than Adding a Gym

By Christina Cheddar Berk, News Editor

NEW YORK ( CNBC) -- As road warriors know all too well, it can be really tough to stick to your routine when traveling.

A hotel gym can often be a small, cramped room, tucked in the corner of a hotel and filled with equipment that may not work. Or travelers may find themselves with few healthy food choices if their itineraries require late-night check-ins or their meetings run late.

InterContinental Hotels Group ( IHG) , the parent of the Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza hotels, recently announced a plan to address this dilemma with EVEN Hotels, a new brand of hotels that will serve the needs of travelers who place a priority on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

If the idea of a health-and-wellness hotel brand seems odd, think again. A wider array of products and services are marketing themselves with the halo of health and wellness, and it's been interesting to see where the concept is spreading.

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Sometimes the health-and-wellness application fulfills a direct need. For example, Ford Motor ( F) has a prototype of a car equipped with Medtronic ( MDT )glucose-sensing technology that can alert drivers and passengers if their blood sugar levels drop too low.

Other times, it's more implied. Take Wells Fargo's ( WFC )ads that suggest its customers will live better by banking with them, or Google's ( GOOG) Chrome ads that highlight how users will improve the lives of others by using their browser.

The concept of wellness is resonating more with consumers, and it is not just because baby boomers are aging and becoming more conscious about their health, according to Ned Russell, a managing director at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness. Even younger consumers are focused on taking preventative action in order to live more healthful lives, he said.

"It's a global trend," Russell said. If companies are able to make the connection, wellness can be "a terrific platform," because it helps establish a personal connection between a consumer and the brand.

"It provides a bridge upon which you can engage in an ongoing dialogue with a customer," Russell said.

There is a danger, however, if the companies who attempt to make this connection are not true to their core brand and fail to understand why their customers use their products in the first place, he said.

IHG estimates there are 17 million travelers who find it hard to stay active and eat right and say they "fall off the wagon" when they travel, said Christian Hempell, vice president of business development and delivery at IHG.

"Wellness is becoming a permanent lifestyle for many Americans..." he said. "They want to maintain their routines while traveling and not make any sacrifice."

And since, the concept of wellness means different things to different people, the EVEN brand will try to meet these needs in different ways.

Take exercise. The new hotels include not only gyms with equipment and group exercise activities, but also elements inside the guest rooms that can aid in a working out. This includes a coat rack that can double as a pull up bar, or luggage racks that can be used as weight benches, as well as tips for guests who prefer to exercise outside.

And healthy food options will be available anytime, right alongside more indulgent treats.

IHG plans to invest as much as $150 million over the next three years on the new brand. At first, the company will own and operate the hotels, but then it will continue its growth through its franchise model.

Hempell declined to say where the first hotels would open, saying it would announce its plan in the second quarter of the year. However, markets such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Minneapolis, Austin, and Atlanta should be very attractive markets for the brand, he said.

IHG expects to have the first hotel open in the first part of 2013.

--Written by Christina Cheddar Berk at CNBC.

CNBC is a world leader in business news, providing real-time financial market coverage and business information.

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