Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2001 | 9:01 a.m.
Rich DeCroce climbed onto a leather workout bench and lifted weights while "Proud Mary" blared from the speakers at the Hard Rock Hotel's Rock Spa.
An international sales manager for the Comedy Central cable network, DeCroce came to Las Vegas earlier this month to attend the National Association of Television Program Executives convention. A good workout on the road, he said, pumps him up physically and mentally.
"(Exercise) is a great way to get your head together when you're away from home," he said. "Wherever I go, I want good machines and room to workout. I workout at home three or four times a week. I dont want to have to stop when Im travelling."
DeCroce is one of a growing number of Las Vegas tourists targeted by the hotel industry, guests who want to work out at a hotel gym before working the table games on the casino floor.
Last year more than a quarter of American travelers 24.7 million opted to work out during their trip, according to the Travel Industry Association of America.
Hotel-casinos like the Aladdin are building fitness centers for customers such as DeCroce. The hotel plans to double its spa and workout facilities to 33,000 square feet in an attempt to draw traveling fitness buffs.
The original Aladdin, imploded in 1998, had a 2,500-square-foot fitness room that featured three treadmills, one stationary bike and a few weights.
That's how most hotels fulfilled guests' exercise needs in the past, said Richard Goeglein, CEO of Aladdin Gaming.
But a handful of machines, a sauna and steam room are not nearly enough to please today's health-conscious travelers.
"We felt we really needed to deliver to the expectations of the guests who will be coming here," Goeglein said.
Why pump up the exercise room?
A good gym receives positive word of mouth among travelers, and can be a selling point in a competitive market, Goeglein said. If guests prefer another facility, they will stay at that hotel and spend money there.
"The market is here for it, and we think it enhances the position of the Aladdin (on the Strip) to have a high-end, large facility for our guests to use," Goeglein said.
The Canyon Ranch SpaClub at the Venetian has also enhanced its physical attraction. The renowned health spa has added more free weights and workout machines to its 18-month-old fitness facility, David Rymark, the spa's director, said.
"Most of our guests are affluent and they are working on state-of-the-art machines at home," Rymark said. "Away from home they are looking for bigger and better facilities, something they can't get at their local gym."
Health club consultant Judy Singer agrees.
Co-owner of the Pompano Beach, Fla., consulting firm Health and Fitness Dynamics Inc. since 1983, Singer has seen the fitness industry evolve to fit the needs of its clientele, who are on the road more than ever.
"People want to maintain their workouts when they are traveling, but with a bit more than the usual," she said.
Singer's firm has doubled its business in the last five years. It has worked with the Four Seasons hotel chain, the Greenbrier hotel in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., and the Silverado Resort & Country Club in Napa, Calif. Singer helped beef up the fitness areas at each business in an effort to help them remain competitive in the travel industry, she said.
As recently as five or 10 years ago fitness rooms were just beginning to become a hotel-industry standard.
"Now every Holiday Inn has one," Singer said. "Now they have to do it. Otherwise they may lose clientele."
Singer toured some of Las Vegas' hotel fitness facilities on the Strip while in town for a meeting with other consultants earlier this month.
Most of the hotels, she said, had an exercise room and spa comparable to those in other parts of the country, but Strip hotels have taken the trend to a higher level.
"It's amazing to see the amount of space that is allocated for the spa," she said. "The Canyon Ranch SpaClub has the most amount of fitness space to any hotel-related spa we've ever seen."
The bottom line is that exercise enthusiasts want -- and need -- to work out.
"People are using it now for stress relief -- the psychological as well as physical health," Singer said.
That's what Mary Limoges attempts to accomplish by working out five days a week -- while at home or at hotels.
"I want to work out; I want to sweat, that's it," she said.
Limoges, president of PIM Financial Services, frequently travels from San Diego to Las Vegas for business meetings with local clients.
Limoges said she has been a guest of a dozen Strip hotels over the past 10 years, and has watched the facilities swell to include larger workout spaces, more equipment, computerized machines and on-site trainers.
She recently stayed at the Regent Las Vegas and paid $15 to work out at its Aquae Sulis Health Spa. (Most hotels charge no more than $10 for guests and no more than $25 for nonguests to use the facilities.)
The Regent's fitness facility offers amenities and machines that Limoges said she hadn't seen in other hotels.
A 5-inch television screen is mounted above the control panel at eye level on each treadmill and stationary bike. Limoges said she enjoyed that, and watched a crime show while she walked on a StarTrac 4500 Treadmill.
But she ignored the Makoto, a futuristic-looking machine tucked in a corner of the workout studio.
Situated on three posts that comprise the Makoto are small, hard-plastic squares that beep and light up. A pole is used to hit the squares, which activate at random intervals and locations around on the posts. While stressing coordination, it supposedly delivers a total body workout.
Although it looked interesting, Limoges stuck to her tried-and-true routine -- the treadmill and weight machines.
"Las Vegas tends to offer above-average" facilities, Limoges said, comparing it to Los Angeles or New York. "I've definitely noticed they are making the experience bigger, better."
And that's OK, she said, as long as they don't forget why she's there -- to get a good workout and relax her mind.
Maureen Guthman, director of acquisitions for cable network VH1, is an experienced traveler and an avid fitness buff. She made a point to call hotels in Las Vegas to find a worthwhile workout facility before she made a weeklong trip here earlier this month for the National Association of Television Programming Executives convention earlier this month.
She chose the Hard Rock for its convenience, and because the number and variety of machines available were to her liking. (Guthman said she doesn't like to wait in line to use a treadmill.)
The Hard Rock's fitness center has big-screen televisions along one wall, a designated stretch area and a climbing wall, which also caught Guthman's attention.
"Before (fitness rooms were) a hole in the wall in the basement (of the hotel), with a rug thrown down and maybe a treadmill," she said. "Now you can expect more."