Equinox finding a fit in hotel space

NEW YORK—With a long-standing reputation in the health/fitness-club arena, Equinox Holdings Inc. (aka Equinox) is now looking to parlay that expertise with a foray into the hotel space, creating a brand that is both luxury/lifestyle- and fitness-focused.

Although plans are in the works, the actual realization of the first Equinox Hotel is some 24 months away, with interior renderings of the rooms, lobby, restaurant, lounges, etc., under wraps for at least a year. What is distinctly in place, however, is the leadership element that will look to bring it all to fruition as Equinox steps into lodging.

Christopher Norton
Equinox Hotels

In the eight months he’s occupied the C-suite, Christopher Norton, CEO of the Equinox hotel business, has been layering his expertise over the nascent project. Formerly president/global product and COO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Norton joined Equinox because he is “convinced” this brand is the future.

“Looking at the big picture, people are more focused on their health than ever before. Fitness is now a powerful luxury commodity and people are embracing a mindset where they are comfortable investing heavily in a lifestyle that helps them maintain their health.  Equinox Hotels will be positioned at the forefront of this movement and the team and I see tremendous opportunity for us to reinvent what ‘luxury’ means within our industry,” he said.

The company, which is led by Harvey Spevak, CEO of Equinox and executive chairman of its hospitality business, has expressed a desire to have 50-75 hotels. Right now there are two in development: one at Hudson Yards in Manhattan and another in Los Angeles, slated to open in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

Norton expects to transfer the Equinox brand’s quarter-century of innovation, style and service to its sibling, noting the lodging piece is predicated on the same holistic philosophy as its fitness clubs.

“Movement, nutrition and regeneration are our central pillars at Equinox Fitness clubs, and these ideas will come to life in new ways at Equinox Hotels,” said Norton. “The physical spaces will produce experiences that soften the disruption of maintaining a healthy mind and body on the road. We’re ultimately aiming to create the sense of community, personalization and style we’re known for in our fitness clubs, re-envisioned in a completely new environment.”

It’s expected the brand will go global in the future, although growth avenues are yet to be paved in stone.

“The team and I are focusing on U.S.-based urban markets and other important global gateway cities, including London,” said Norton. “We also are exploring some exciting opportunities in Hawaii. The interest in the brand from developers has been phenomenal.

“All our projects to date are greenfield, which will help us to position the brand in the best light possible from the get-go,” he added. ”Mixed-use development is the economic way to go these days, but if returns work for investors, we will consider other options as well.”

Norton noted while the first two hotels are new-construction, his team has been looking at conversions but has not yet found the right property or partner.

As might be expected, hotel locations will be connected seamlessly to an Equinox Fitness Club, allowing hotel guests to enter the clubs via the hotel to merge these two experiences. “Vibrant, functional and thoughtfully designed fitness clubs are part of the brand’s DNA,” said the CEO.

Equinox Fitness Clubs will continue to manage clubs independently and lease the space from the developer.

“Equinox is a hotel management company, but given our tight relationship to Related Companies (the company’s majority investor and co-developer of Hudson Yards), we have the advantage of association through ownership with one of the world’s greatest developers and builders. Having said that, we also are in open discussions with other investors who are looking to the Equinox brand to open, build and operate a successful and profitable business.”

Since most hotels have some sort of fitness facility, Hotel Business asked Norton how the Equinox hotel brand will stand out and how will luxury be draped over fitness, e.g., using high-end equipment, having designer outfits to wear in the facility, or will it be something more emotionally perceived that melds the two as an experience.

“Other hotels might be able to provide a workout facility to check the box, but these spaces can feel uninspired and without life. What’s more is that there is no way for these facilities to drive the community or healthy lifestyle culture that Equinox already offers in its fitness clubs, and that will evolve with this hotel brand,” said Norton.

“In the past, working out was part of a to-do list, but now it’s a way of life with a distinct culture to match. At Equinox Hotels, we’ll offer the tools to help empower a high-performance lifestyle. This includes our fitness clubs, as well as nutrition and regeneration amenities. The end goal is to create an experience—as opposed to just a physical space. A traveler who stays at an Equinox Hotel certainly doesn’t need to love working out, but they will likely be someone who prioritizes their health as a necessity. Guests will have access to full-scale Equinox Fitness Clubs that occupy massively larger footprints than the usual hotel gym offering, and also incorporate the signature amenities of our fitness clubs, including group fitness, personal training, spa, retail and healthy nutrition,” he said.

A rendering of 10 Hudson Yards building where the Equinox Hotel, Club and offices will be located

Design also will play a large part in defining the brand, said Norton, who is known in industry circles for his aesthetic approach to hotel environments.

“Equinox Hotels is founded on our brand promise of merging substance with style. Lifestyle hotel brands come up with trend-driven concepts that, by nature, become less and less relevant as consumer tastes evolve, and our model will stand in stark contrast to this. The brand is predicated on a mindset that high-performance living is timeless,” he said, adding the hotels are meant to feel elevated, provocative and masterful.

“We will redefine what luxury service means with a heavy investment in technology that manages habits, schedules, preferences and even guests’/members’ workout schedules. At its core, this is a guest-centric model. Our use of technology will be punctuated with highly personalized service, creating a new category in the luxury hospitality space. Our signature features at each club within Equinox Hotels will evolve as fitness evolves.”

The first Equinox Hotel at Hudson Yards will offer Equinox’s largest health-club footprint at 60,000 sq. ft. and have indoor and outdoor swimming pools. It will also include its Tier X personal-training program that incorporates movement, nutrition and regeneration offerings. “Tier X can be an especially powerful lifestyle tool for those who want to minimize the lifestyle disruption that travel often presents,” said Norton, who is a staunch advocate of fitness.

“ I work out religiously. I currently follow a regimen that includes Pilates, stretching and personal training, but fitness has long defined who I am as both an individual and professional,” said the CEO. “I had challenges in childhood that took me out of physical fitness for about two years, and during that time, I learned the importance of not taking anything for granted. As a direct result of these challenges, fitness has become a constant for me, and I spent time as a competitive swimmer and became an avid runner. My commitment to fitness has influenced every aspect of most of the positions I’ve held over my 40 years in hospitality, from the menus at hotel restaurants to the development of our facilities. The development of Equinox Hotels is a dream realized for me, as health is central to who we are.”

And while the hotels are still incubating, Norton assured an observer the Equinox DNA would be present throughout the properties.

“For us, it’s so much more than the miles you log on a treadmill; Equinox is about your 24/7. It’s what you eat, how you approach an off day and how much you sleep. The hotel concept feels like a very natural next step in our brand’s journey, because we’re bringing this point of view to life in a hospitality environment… We’re not for everyone, and we’re okay with that, because we’re trusted as an authority in worlds well beyond fitness, including fashion, architecture/design, technology and pop culture. This singular sensibility will come to life in new ways at Equinox Hotels,” Norton concluded. HB

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