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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | October 26, 2011

Brian Povinelli, global brand leader, Westin Hotels & ResortsIn what likely is a first for a hotel chain, Westin Hotels & Resorts announced yesterday the extension of its Elements of Well-Being Platform initiative to its 25,000 worldwide employees, known as "associates." As part of the Associate Enrichment Program, which began to roll out this week at its 181 hotels worldwide, housekeepers will don New Balance athletic shoes, employee cafeterias will include healthy lifestyle menu options (as well as offer cooking classes), and employee-led stretching routines, jogs and yoga circles will become part of everyday wellness offerings. And the cost to Westin associates? Zero.

"You might say we've come full circle," says Brian Povinelli, global brand leader, Westin Hotels & Resorts, when I asked him how this unique concept came about. "There is no reason our associates shouldn't benefit from the same programs we give our guests. Our thinking is if they can relate to the brand's message, they will obviously be more effective in bringing it to our guests." Westin's integration of wellness as the core component of its brand image began in 1999 with the launch of the Heavenly Bed, which touted the idea that the key to a good stay was a good night's rest. That was followed in 2003 by the introduction of the WestinWorkout gym experience, followed by the 2007 roll out of SuperfoodsRX, when properties began including nutrient-rich items (such salmon, avocados, blueberries,  green tea and whole grains) on all menus as way of promoting a healthy lifestyle.

The key to getting employees to embrace the new Associate Enrichment Program, says Povinelli, is having them take ownership. Designated "Well Ambassadors" at each property will meet with their executive chef to develop employee cafeteria menus (including healthy snacks), gather ideas from their colleagues on wellness offerings they would like to participate in, as well as encourage colleagues to share ideas and resources on any aspect of personal well being.

The program is barely 24-hours old, but the response from Westin properties around the world has been immediate and overwhelmingly positive, says Povinelli. "Our Mexican resorts have already called to say they have partnered with a yoga instruction center to begin offering classes in their ballrooms during times they aren't in use, and our Times Square property in New York City was inspired to implement a smoking-cessation program for its associates," he notes. Going forward, Povinelli says Westin management already is looking into other models that will help integrate the brand's emphasis on wellness into its associates' lives. Could this mean Heavenly Beds for all? Stay tuned.