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Lodging Like A High-End Health Club

WADE GOODWYN, HOST:

Professional athletes aren't the only ones who work hard to stay fit. Business travelers are increasingly looking for hotels with exercise facilities which can help work off those pastry platters. Now a new type of hotel has opened in Norwalk, Connecticut to serve those who want healthier options. WSHU's Kaomi Goetz looks at the latest trend.

KAOMI GOETZ, BYLINE: As soon as you pull up to the wood-paneled entrance of the Even Hotel in Norwalk, Connecticut, you know it's going to be different from traditional hotels. The lettering says Wellcome. That's spelled W-E-L-L. Once inside, there's fruit-infused water and a reception desk that's a low island. An attendant balances on a fitness ball. That's where I meet Dieter Schmitz.

DIETER SCHMITZ: I'm the chief wellness officer.

GOETZ: Schmitz's business card describes him as an avid runner. He's the kind of health-conscious traveler Even is hoping to attract.

SCHMITZ: The goal is by the time you get your room keys, you're already associating this brand as something different from the cookie-cutter norm.

GOETZ: The first floor is set up like a high-end health club. There's self-serve bean-to-cup coffee. A machine squeezes oranges into a juice glass. There is a state-of-the-art gym. Or if you prefer, de-stress in your own room. It comes with a resistance post, TV channels offering short workouts and a yoga mat and cork board flooring for better planking. It's quite a contrast from most hotels, where the fitness rooms may have little more than an exercise bike and a treadmill.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: It's such a different experience that it is a little overwhelming, in a good way.

GOETZ: International Hotel Group has launched Even with a $150 million investment. Besides Connecticut, there's another location in Maryland. Three more are set to open in New York City by the end of next year. At $159 a night, Even is chasing a niche - the mid to upscale business traveler who values fitness and eating healthy. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In the audio of this story, we incorrectly refer to the InterContinental Hotels Group as the International Hotel Group.]

David Loeb is a senior analyst with Baird, a Milwaukee-based investment bank. He follows the $160 billion U.S. hotel industry. He says the hotel business is booming across the board. There's more demand than available rooms nationwide. And that means companies like IHG are trying to grow and experiment.

DAVID LOEB: We're going to see a lot more of that kind of innovation because all of the brands want to make sure that their hotels aren't aging out with the baby boomers.

GOETZ: But with so few locations, an Even Hotel will be hard to find - at least for several years. In the meantime, competitors like Starwood are trying to add wellness amenities to its brands, like Westin and W Hotels.

Michael Baker of Business Travel News says that could pose a problem for Even. He says today's travelers aren't very loyal.

MICHAEL BAKER: They'll be looking for other hotels that can replicate that. And if it's within the same brand, then that works. If it's not, then they don't really care.

GOETZ: But IHG is hoping it won't be taking the risk alone in the future. Its goal is to build a buzz early on and then attract investors to open franchises.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORKOUT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Let's finish this strong - set, go, press, turn.

GOETZ: Back in Connecticut, Tanya Killian of Ames, Iowa was at the Even Hotel for the week on advice from her travel agent. She said the exercise channels helped her workout in her room.

TANYA KILLIAN: I was really surprised. I Skyped my husband, actually, and showed him around the entire room and showed him everything. And we were very, very impressed.

GOETZ: And with no advertising budget, Even Hotels hope that kind of positive word-of-mouth will do the talking for them. For NPR News, I'm Kaomi Goetz. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: September 23, 2014 at 12:00 AM EDT
We incorrectly refer to the InterContinental Hotels Group as the International Hotel Group.

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