From complete closure to reduced reopening and a migration of members, the UK health and fitness sector has been one of the hardest hit over the past few months. With over 10 million fitness members attending more than 7,000 establishments before the pandemic, equating to 1 in 7 of the UK population having a gym membership (according to LeisureDB, a leading data specialist). The industry was in a very healthy position as consumers were more conscious than ever about maintaining their health and fitness levels.

All that changed with the closure of fitness facilities in March, staff were furloughed, memberships were frozen and treadmills were left motionless. Even after the reopening on 25 July, some fitness facilities have struggled to comply with the stringent new guidelines on distancing, cleaning and numbers of people allowed in.

Despite direct debits being frozen and memberships put on hold, many people decided to cancel their membership altogether, especially if they were ‘sleeping’ members who didn’t attend the gym (an estimated 12% of members) – the uncertain financial environment encouraged people to tighten their belts and make savings.

Fitness online

Lifestyles have changed dramatically during the Coronavirus lockdown and the tentative return to work. With no commute and a more flexible daily schedule, people are finding time for fitness where they couldn’t before. And gyms and fitness instructors have responded by moving classes online and training in parks, changing the way the fitness sector delivers its expertise.

It looks like offering live-streamed or filmed classes is here to stay. A large proportion of gym-goers are now accessing digital classes and there’s been a huge jump in consumers utilising virtual content since March 2020. Many people chose a gym located near their workplace and with companies asking employees to work from home well into 2021, it’s simply not as convenient as it was to get to the gym in person.

Reopening challenges

Gyms, pools and leisure centres have worked incredibly hard to prepare their facilities for a limited reopening in July but with each visitor needing nine square metres of space, including in the changing areas, it has been a huge headache for far less reward for fitness bosses. Numbers are limited and people must book their time slot, equipment is more spaced out and cleaned regularly.

Whilst many are desperate to get back into their old fitness routine, some gym-goers are simply not prepared to take the risk of sharing their fitness space with others, despite the safety measures put in place. This will continue to be a major challenge for the sector. There is also concern that customers will become more comfortable with working out at home and will be unwilling to return.

Swimming pools are having an even tougher time, with many still not able to open due to the difficulties of implementing the guidelines, the cost of heating the pool and the reduced numbers allowed to attend. This will no doubt have a detrimental effect on the fight against obesity.

The future

Regular exercise has been shown to improve a person’s ability to regulate the immune system, essential for avoiding the severe symptoms of COVID-19 so it is vital that as a nation, we maintain our strength and fitness levels. As time passes, it is up to the sector to convince people that fitness facilities are almost risk-free environments for COVID-19. In a recent study by ukactive, in the three weeks after gyms reopened, there were just 0.020 positive cases per 10,000 gym visits.

It is predicted that revenue in the fitness sector will take a massive 30% hit in 2020 and that it will take up to 18 months to recover. In fact, LeisureDB predicts that one in five people will not renew their membership post-pandemic. Digital fitness existed before, but the crisis has accelerated the trend and forced the industry to adapt to its customers’ needs. By offering a wider range of ways to access their fitness and maintaining scrupulously clean facilities, the sector can and will bounce back to full health.

Is your fitness business is as healthy as it could be? Are you accessing all the assistance possible and adapting your strategy to suit your customer and market requirements? The specialist team at CRM understand the specific challenges of your sector, with expertise in all aspects of your finances and tax laws. For help in these challenging times, get in touch with the health & fitness sector specialists at CRM on 01865 379272.

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