Though numerous destination spas periodically offer weight-loss retreats and health-and-fitness programs, few resorts cater exclusively to obese guests by providing year-round, high-intensity weight-loss programs.
Despite recording revenue per available room well above the national average, the U.S. weight-loss resort market segment is surprisingly undersupplied. The U.S. has only five true weight-loss resorts with 360 guestrooms. This disproportion bodes well for the future of the weight-loss resort industry, which offers only one brand: The Biggest Loser Resort.
Destination spas versus weight-loss resorts
Two types of resorts cater specifically to guests interested in weight loss: destination spas and weight-loss resorts.
Destination spas are hotel facilities primarily designed to encourage healthy habits to their guests. Over a seven-day stay, these facilities provide a comprehensive program that includes spa services, physical fitness activities, wellness education, healthy cuisine and special interest programming.
Destination spas host the majority of the weight-loss programs offered in the U.S. These spas offer the latest in food, fitness and spa services, and they have a low guest-to-staff ratio. Nutritious, low-calorie meals and fitness classes are available, but the guests choose how much to eat and in which classes they wish to participate. Because each guest determines their level of participation, the weight-loss programs offered at destination spas lack the level of camaraderie experienced at more structured weight-loss resorts.
The following table lists destination spas in the U.S. that offer weight loss programs. Because nearly all weight-loss programs are sold as plan packages, we show the average weekly published price, which includes three daily meals, fitness programs and education. We also show the equivalent daily price.
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With one exception, all of the destination spas listed are independent properties. Canyon Ranch, an established resort brand that focuses on health and wellness, is the only multiple location destination spa brand. Canyon Ranch operates three U.S. resorts in Lenox, Massachusetts; Tucson, Arizona; and Miami Beach, Florida.
Additionally, Canyon Ranch operates several SpaClub locations with day spa facilities, fitness classes and workout facilities. These are located at The Venetian and The Palazzo hotels in Las Vegas and on various cruise ships.
Modern weight-loss resorts evolved from the 1950s-era camps that were commonly referred to as “fat farms.” Geared toward wealthy women, these grueling programs combined extremely low calorie diets and excessive vigorous exercise to produce rapid weight loss.
Instead of temporary fast results, today’s resorts are designed to provide long-term nutrition and lifestyle tools. Programs range from a few days to more than eight weeks, with one to three week stays being the norm. Although guests experience some weight loss during their stay, the primary goal at most weight-loss resorts is long-term fitness. Programs at these resorts not only focus on weight loss but also on changing behavior to ensure that sustained weight loss occurs after guests return home.
Some guests complain their lack of will power prevents them from following programs that allow them to choose their level of participation, such as those offered at many destination spas. In such cases, the highly structured programs at weight-loss resorts are preferred because of their strict regimentation and the camaraderie of fellow participants keeping them on track.
The following table lists weight-loss resorts in the U.S. We show the average weekly published price inclusive of three daily meals, fitness programs and education. We also show the equivalent daily price.
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Hilton Head Health prides itself on delivering an exceptional experience in fitness, nutrition and stress management, empowerment, longevity and fulfillment through personal and interactive sessions designed for individuals ready to embrace a lifestyle change. Program features include health assessment, daily intense exercise, three healthy gourmet meals and daily snacks, nutritional classes and cooking demonstrations. This 35-year-old resort was featured on A&E's weight loss based reality TV documentary “Heavy.” In addition to weekly stays, the property offers an “Extended & Intensive” 26-week program designed for those individuals looking for a structured, long-term program to support sustainable weight loss and weight management. With more than 60 individualized sessions, this program starts at $43,700.
Green Mountain Resort at Fox Run is located on 26 acres overlooking Green Mountain National Forest in Ludlow, Vermont. This resort caters exclusively to adult women and has been called “the most experienced educationally based weight-loss program for women in the country” by “Prevention Magazine.” Pioneers of the non-diet movement, Green Mountain’s credentialed, multidisciplinary staff teaches intuitive eating and healthy living strategies that have been developed for more than 38 years. The resort also offers specially focused programs for adult-onset diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, metabolic syndrome, binge eating and more. In addition to daily intense exercise, the weeklong programs at Green Mountain include cooking classes, nutrition classes and lifestyle counseling. Weight management programs are offered in one-, two-, three- and four-week sessions year round. The resort benefits from its excellent reputation, upscale facility, well-trained staff and idyllic location.
Biggest Loser Resorts is the only multi-destination weight-loss resort brand in the world. “The Biggest Loser” is a reality TV show that first started in the U.S. in 2004 on NBC. The show centers on overweight contestants who attempt to lose the highest percentage of weight (or most weight) to win a cash prize and become the “Biggest Loser.” Founded on a four-point philosophy of fitness, nutrition, education and relaxation, guests of the Biggest Loser Resorts enjoy a nutritionally balanced, boot camp-style experience. Because these resorts recognize that the health and wellness of corporate employees leads to greater efficiency and optimal performance in the workplace, Biggest Loser caters to companies searching for ways to reduce weight-related health-care costs by offering packages, programs and team-building retreats intended to boost morale and encourage healthier, happier and more productive employees.
Established in Ivins, Utah, in October 2009, Biggest Loser Resort opened its second location in Malibu, California, in September 2010 and its third location in Java Center, New York, in May 2012.
Weight-loss resort locations
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity rates doubled between 1980 and 2000 to nearly 30% of U.S. adults, or approximately 60 million individuals. No state has a prevalence of obesity less than 21%. According to 2010 state obesity rates, the states with the highest rates (Alabama, West Virginia and Mississippi) do not offer any weight-loss resorts. Weight-loss resorts are instead positioned in some of America’s least obese locales (California, Utah and the mountains of Vermont), which are traditional resort locations.
Weight-loss resort operators report that they accommodate guests from throughout the U.S. and Canada. According to Hotel & Leisure Advisors’ research, most guests choose to drive to these resorts because they are either uncomfortable flying or do not care to purchase two airline seats, if the airline requires it for obese people. Judging by the location of existing weight-loss resorts, many guests are driving hundreds of miles for the opportunity to participate in their programs.
Demand for weight-loss resorts
All five existing weight-loss resorts are privately operated, and none publish specific usage or revenue figures. H&LA’s research indicates that guests need to make reservations approximately one month in advance at the Biggest Loser Resorts because of strong demand. All of the resorts impose a seven night minimum length of stay, which contributes to average occupancy levels well above U.S. national averages. Some program participants come for just one week, some come for a month or more and still others book one week at a time up to four times per year (in an effort to stay motivated). Averaging just 52 guestrooms, the relatively small size of the existing resorts also contributes to their high occupancy levels.
Average rates at these resorts, which include three daily meals, supervised fitness activities and educational programs, range from $2,495 to $2,780 per week, or $356 to $397 per day.
Our nation is attempting to quell its obesity epidemic. Perhaps because they are unaware of the untapped demand, resort developers have been slow to enter the weight-loss resort market. Meanwhile, the few existing weight-loss resorts continue to benefit from the supply imbalance, achieving RevPAR well above an average U.S. resort.
David J. Sangree, MAI, CPA, ISHC is President of Hotel & Leisure Advisors, a national hospitality consulting firm. Mr. Sangree’s expertise is in the appraisal and analysis of hotels, resorts, indoor waterpark resorts, waterparks, amusement parks, conference centers, ski resorts, and golf courses. He has performed studies on more than 1,000 existing and proposed hotels in more than 46 states in all price ranges including economy, full-service, extended-stay, and luxury hotels and resorts including indoor waterpark resorts. He has been an active appraiser/consultant since 1987 and also has 10 years of work experience in the hotel/restaurant industry, including management positions with four Westin Hotel properties. He can be reached via telephone at 216-228-7000 ext. 20 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
Laurel A. Keller is Director of Consulting & Appraisal Services with Hotel & Leisure Advisors. Ms. Keller has been a hospitality consultant and appraiser since 2001, and has completed over 210 assignments in 32 states. She has appraised individual assets ranging in value from less than $1,000,000 to well over $100,000,000. Ms. Keller’s expertise is in the appraisal and analysis of hotels, resorts, indoor and outdoor waterparks, amusement parks, ski resorts, casinos, and golf courses. She has held management positions with a variety of hotels and country clubs in the Midwest. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Hospitality Management from Purdue University, and is a State Certified General Real Estate Appraiser in Ohio. She can be reached via telephone at 216-228-7000 ext. 22, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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