What UK Can Learn From Global Markets As Fitness Operators Get Ready To Reopen

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  • Earliest possible reopening date for UK gyms anticipated to be Saturday 4th July
  • Covid-19 restrictions expected to be in place for at least six months
  • Report by ukactive also finds 88% of gym members will use their facility the same amount, or more than before, once it reopens
  • Feedback from F45’s reopened studios in Australia and the US suggests classes, although offered at a reduced capacity, are already being fully booked 

LONDON, United Kingdom — Using consumer behaviour analysis and predictive scenario modelling, not-for-profit health body ukactive and research institute 4global have released a major new report mapping the recovery of the health and fitness sector in the UK. 

Taking into consideration the expected social distancing restrictions placed on facilities and fluctuating consumer confidence, the report has drawn up a “worst case” scenario if restrictions were to be in place for six months. To that end, it projects loss in social value generated across the sector to be an estimated £2.1 billion, with 700 million lost visits expected between March 2020 to March 2021. 

Anticipating the earliest possible reopening date of 4th July, and expecting restrictions to be in place for six months following lockdown, the report found gym, group workouts and swimming would eventually fill their capacity by weeks 41 (12th October), 45 (9th November) and 48 (30th November). 

The report also shed light on the forecasted growth of participation across the sector up to 4th July 2020 were the pandemic not to have struck. The data suggests without COVID-19, participation would have been up 5.7%, compared with the same week in 2019. The COVID-19 revised forecast with no restrictions to how gyms operate is -59%, with restrictions it is -72%. 

Despite these troubling projections, the report also found that 88% of gym members said they would use their facility the same amount, or more than before, once it reopened. 

Lizzie Broughton, Senior Insight Manager at ukactive, said: “COVID-19 makes the role of the physical activity sector more important than ever, with our gyms and leisure facilities ready to provide vital community support for our health and wellbeing when we emerge from lockdown. 

“We know that the choices made by operators over the coming months will determine how well our sector recovers from the losses experienced during lockdown, so this report acts as an essential tool for decision making.”

What UK Can Learn From Global Markets As Fitness Operators Get Ready To Reopen

Temperature checks, face masks and BYO dumbbells
Ukactive has been working on a framework for leisure facilities to follow in order to reopen, with many gyms and studios already signed on. Among them is London studio chain 1Rebel, which has been working closely with ukactive to develop these new guidelines. 

In line with this framework, 1Rebel’s co-founder James Balfour believes UK gyms will be able to start reopening in early July, he told Women’s Health

Temperature checks will likely become common practice when the doors do reopen. 1Rebel is installing “self-scanning temperature checks”, David Lloyd will use “thermo guns” and Equinox plans to take temperatures by “zero-contact thermometers” on arrival, turning anyone away reading 38 degrees or higher. 

According to the ukactive framework, face masks won’t be mandatory for staff, unless their role requires it. At F45 masks and gloves will be optional, 1Rebel meanwhile, has created its own workout masks that members can buy online and in the studio, and David Lloyd has purchased personal protective equipment (PPE) for its staff. 

Capacity is likely to be significantly limited, with 1Rebel operating at 50% and Ten Health and Fitness also promising to reduce numbers. David Lloyd is working on installing two separate gym areas and allowing additional spacing of equipment in 80% of its clubs, and Third Space is currently developing an app that will allow people to book their visit before coming to its clubs. 

Elsewhere, some boutique brands are encouraging members to BYOK (bring your own kit), with Frame selling Quickie Fit Kits containing Pilates balls, resistance bands and gliders for members to bring to class.

Following Australia’s lead
In Australia, which has recorded 7,320 cases of COVID-19 and 102 deaths (at the time of writing), fitness facilities are starting to reopen with strict social distancing measures in place. 

At Fitness First in Hornsby, Sydney, which reopened over the weekend, every other exercise machine was out of action, as were alternate lockers in the changing rooms, foam mats were no longer available and water fountains were taped up. 

Fitness First Australia general manager David Aitchison, speaking to the Daily Mail, acknowledged that COVID-19 measures would change the way gyms operated. 

“We are conscious that in keeping our clubs safe and healthy for everyone, returning to the gym will feel a little different,” he said. While Fitness First has frozen memberships during the pandemic, the company is slashing its monthly fees by 50% for any members who are ready to return. 

In the US, states including Texas, Florida, Georgia and Arizona started allowing gyms to reopen from late May. There, COVID-19 safety measures have included a 25% operating capacity, non-negotiable booking systems and temperature checks at the door. 

Despite steps the industry is taking to encourage members to return, some gyms have already been forced to close permanently. 

In the US, California’s iconic Gold’s Gym was forced to file for bankruptcy protection in May, which would mean the closure of 30 company-owned gyms around the world. 

And at least five gyms in Dubai, including CrossFit GoldBox Dubai and Flywheel Dubai, have ceased operations, blaming limited support for SMEs and stubborn landlords for their inability to survive the pandemic, according to Arabian Business.

UK behind the curve
While global fitness franchise F45 has already seen studios in America, Australia and Europe begin to reopen, all 64 UK studios have remained firmly shut since the country first went into lockdown on 23rd March. 

“It’s important to remember that the UK went into lockdown a few weeks later,” says Mike Dean, European Sales Director at F45 Training. “In this case, we are fortunate that we have been able to test reopening strategies and implement appropriate health and safety measures in regions that have reopened. We are learning and adapting these methods in preparation for when the UK studios can reopen.” 

F45 plans to introduce a new workout solution, where each member will have their own allocated workout space of 2m x 2m. “This has been created as a non-shared equipment solution for in-studio workouts to comply with strict reopening guidelines and to help maintain social distancing guidelines.” 

Dean says there will also be extended breaks between sessions for the kit to be sanitised and workouts have been designed to accommodate nine to 18 members, suggesting classes will be operating at around 50% or less than their typical 36 member capacity. 

Other initiatives include a contact-free check-in, ensuring entry and exit doors are propped open and that hand sanitiser is readily available.

What UK Can Learn From Global Markets As Fitness Operators Get Ready To Reopen

Image: F45

Members are chomping at the bit
Despite concerns about lifting the lockdown in the UK, Dean is confident all F45 studios will fully recover as soon as they get the green light to open their doors. “We have no doubt that all studios will reopen, and we believe that the initiatives we have implemented during the pandemic have helped to keep studio members engaged and new members signed up. 

“Following an internal survey of F45 members, which revealed that 52% missed group training, we do not expect memberships and participation to be negatively impacted by the pandemic,” says Dean, referring to a survey of 25,861 respondents conducted in May. 

“In fact, we believe that people are chomping at the bit to get back to training at F45 again and are yearning to experience that sense of community that we are so well known for. 

“The feedback we have had from the 600 global studios which have already reopened has given minimal indication that members won’t be coming back. Although classes are at smaller capacity, they are being waitlisted almost instantaneously. 

“There was a big question mark as to whether people’s want and desire to train in a group environment will outweigh their nervousness of training in this type of social environment, but this has been answered by the recently opened studios proving that members can’t wait to get back to the studio.” 

Not worth the risk
While Dean insists F45 is ready to return to something resembling its normal operation, he stressed caution needs to be taken and additional support should be provided for those unable to get back in the studio straight away. 

“One major takeaway from COVID-19 is just how important loyal members are to a studio,” says Dean. “Throughout the shutdown and now, studios are looking after their members and ensuring they can cater to them in regions where class sizes are limited and demand has increased.” 

He adds: “However, nobody should be rushing to get back into the swing of things too quickly. Everyone is eager to get back to the studio, but it’s not worth risking the health and safety of members and staff.” 

The ukactive report was drawn on millions of customer visits captured by the DataHub, alongside data points from across the wider sector, including polling from Leisure-net, Sport England and Savanta ComRes, TA6 Alliance, My Customer Lens and YouGov. 

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