Local hotels an untapped fitness, adventure niche

features-   A contestant plies the waves during a paddleboarding contest, the first in the state, near the IOP pier on Nov. 1.   Photo provided by Dave Clifford

One of the quandaries of traveling is staying fit while away from home.

As fun as it is to get away, a traveler who is committed to fitness, or wants to be, is away from familiar surroundings such as the gym, walking- or running-friendly routes, likely without their bikes, or without workout buddies or personal trainers.

And many hotel “fitness centers” are small and filled with equipment from the 1980s.

With Charleston's well-established accommodations industry and quickly growing professional fitness and outdoor adventure communities, there appears to be an opportunity for a new symbiotic relationship that can be good for all of us locals, economically and physically.

This dawned on me after I received two emails earlier this month from hotels, one from Miami's South Beach and the other from Aruba, that promoted their fitness activities. Is fitness what being dog-friendly and having HBO and wireless Internet used to be for hotels? A perk that can sway a visitor to stay or stay longer?

The South Beach hotel touted beach volleyball on Mondays, a 3K fun run with managers on Thursdays, paddleboard lessons on Fridays, beach yoga on Saturdays and a South Beach bike tour on Sundays.

Many Charleston hotels can do that. And some are, but perhaps are not promoting it enough.

The idea of adding a fitness component to hotels, however, is on the radar screen of the folks at the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Outdoor or out-of-the-ordinary fitness packages is a trend we've been following and hope to see adopted locally,” says Ida Becker, the CVB's director of communications.

While Becker and many are currently in “PGA mode” now, she said fostering outdoor recreation and fitness “tops our post-Championship research list.” (The 2012 PGA Tour will be at Kiawah Island Aug. 9-12). In fact, Becker says CVB officials already have plans to meet with Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission Executive Director Tom O'Rourke to talk about “big picture opportunities for eco-tourism at Patriots Point.”

Becker adds the CVB approached several hotels last summer while working on a project with Outside magazine.

“Nothing was really in place at that time. However, there was a lot of excitement about the growing/dynamic outdoor recreation scene, especially SUP (stand-up paddleboarding),” says Becker.

Some area hotels, in fact, are already in the loop — to a degree.

Theris Trupos has been working as a part-time personal trainer at The Spa at Charleston Place for at least a year, training both locals who are members of the spa and guests who come from around the country and world.

“For me, it works out perfectly,” says Trupos. “And it's a lot of fun. Ninety percent of the people who sign up are in shape and want to stay in shape ... People are definitely working out more on vacations.”

Trupos adds, however, that each hotel that wants to add fitness services are limited by particular facilities or proximity to outdoor recreation. Every hotel has different strengths and weaknesses in that sense.

Will Shealy, a new personal trainer with K180 Fitness at East Shore Athletic Club's Pine Point Shopping Plaza, considers fitness services at hotels an “untapped niche” in Charleston.

“I'm not sure anyone has grabbed it yet,” says Shealy, noting that he started making a few calls earlier this month.

Kevin McQuade, chief concierge at the Courtyard Marriott near the corner of Calhoun and Meeting streets, has been a concierge for 13 years and has noticed the increased interest, and importance, of guests wanting to exercise and do more outdoor activities.

“Even if they are on vacation, guests don't want to disrupt their workout routine. It's become an important part of their life,” says McQuade, adding that hotels without fitness centers are at a disadvantage these days.

Fortunately for the Courtyard Marriott, it has both a fine fitness center and is close to many specialized fitness centers. McQuade often refers those wanting yoga to Blue Turtle Yoga on Wentworth Street and those wanting to swim or work out at a larger facility to the MUSC Wellness Center.

McQuade adds that the interests in what kind of activity generally varies with the expense of the hotel and where it's located. More demands for fitness are made at higher end hotels. Hotels in the city get more requests for fitness, while the hotels on the islands or more remote locations get more requests for adventure activities such a kiteboarding, paddleboarding and surfing.

McQuade says, overwhelmingly, that the interest in running has grown and that many opt not to run the Cooper River bridge but rather down through the historic district.

“Many people who are here for a short time, such as for weddings, don't have a lot of time and slipping away for a run may be their only opportunity to see the city.”

Reach David Quick at 937-5516 or dquick@postand courier.com.