Although gyms and fitness centers were finally allowed to reopen in August, albeit with limited capacity, they are not in good health. A significant number of fitness enthusiasts are delaying their return to the gym as fear of the virus is still high. Also, home workouts and online fitness classes have grown significantly over the past year. Almost all fitness centers have major problems getting back on their feet.
Many gyms were unable to pay high rents and had to close permanently after the pandemic. “Due to severe financial problems, about 20 to 25% of the market has been wiped out in the past six to nine months. Some gym owners were hoping to reopen later in 2020, but many had to shut down completely, ”said Jayam Vora, co-founder and COO of Fitternity, a gym aggregator service.
The business with fitness centers and gyms is exposed to immense stress worldwide. In May 2020, Gold’s Gym, a leading international chain of fitness studios, filed for bankruptcy in the United States. Two other American fitness training centers, 24 Hour Fitness and New York Sports Club, also filed for bankruptcy.
The number of attendees in gyms has yet to grow, say gym owners. “The batch sizes have been halved because we have to follow the disinfection protocols. Business for us is 65-70% year-on-year, ”says Badal Makwana, director of Anytime Fitness (Andheri and Khar), a global chain of fitness studios. Like many others, Makwana offers customers 25 to 30% discount on membership fees. According to industry estimates, the January fitness business recovery was about 40% of January 2020. Both Vora and Makwana do not expect a full recovery until late 2021, when everything else stays the same and the vaccination campaign goes smoothly.
All of Anytime Fitness’ 95 centers are fully functional, which is why the gym no longer offers free online classes to its members, although many still want an online option, Makwana says.
According to Vora, around 35% of gym members still prefer to exercise from home. Sohrab Khushrushahi, founder of SOHFIT, says those who return to the gym have special requirements, like lifting heavy weights that are impossible to do at home.
Trainers like Khushrushahi, who used to be able to serve a limited clientele with their offline courses, have now reached a wider audience with their online courses. According to Vora, this has particularly helped people in Tier II and III cities who did not have access to specialized trainers in their cities.
Although online sessions have started in the last few months, gym owners are counting on the revival of physical gyms as it is difficult to keep members through online classes. Ankur Pahwa, national leader in e-commerce and consumer internet and a partner of EY, notes that those who do not have access to devices have decided to experiment with online offers. However, these are only short-term attempts with minimal commitment.
Vora assumes that the operators of fitness studios will generate 15% of their turnover with online offers in the next two to three years. It won’t all come from fitness training, however. Experts believe that nutritional advice, fitness programs, and consultations with experts are segments that have already gone online and will continue to find sustained acceptance.
In order for fitness training to achieve greater penetration, “the program may have to offer an offline component in conjunction with the online offer in the long term,” adds Pahwa, pointing out the need for an omnichannel approach. A stronger integration of social media and the gamification of online training courses could further improve the offer.
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