It’s hard to escape the feeling that we’re in the middle of a Hollywood movie, as events relating to COVID-19 unfold around us and the extraordinary and the unthinkable become the everyday. Who could have predicted that all flights from Europe to the US could ever be grounded?
With major disruptions announced by the minute around the clock – from school closures to the suspension of major events – the long-predicted global pandemic has swiftly arrived.
So how is the health and fitness industry responding and what will the impacts be on our sector in the short- and medium-term?
In this issue, we talk to CEOs Humphrey Cobbold of Pure Gym and Clive Ormerod of Les Mills, about their inspiring responses. In the hours between now and when we publish, their positions may change, but we believe it’s valuable to track progress.
Although the macro picture may eventually impact the sector if economic disruption leads to falling income levels, as a largely subscription-based business, health clubs should be able to withstand some business interruption in the short-term, as gym closures in Italy, Spain, Sweden and so on come into effect.
The straightforward measure of extending membership will minimise the immediate economic impact, create positive goodwill and may even improve retention.
Boutiques, with their pay-as-you-go model, are more exposed to the impact and COVID-19 will stress-test their resilience and the commitment of their tribes, especially those with no digital outreach in the form of live streaming, or on-demand.
The pandemic will accelerate the adoption of fitness tech, with operators moving to line up digital, home-based workouts to keep members active if they’re self-isolating and hungry to move.
We’ll also see a surge in interest in outdoor workouts, as ‘social distancing’ becomes a part of life and people find ways to exercise in the fresh air while keeping the recommended distance apart.
The situation will expose the self-employed status of many PTs and – just as Deliveroo is making payments to its zero-hours delivery workers if they get the virus – so the fitness industry must step up and support PTs who are in difficulty.
So what of the longer-term? Now the virus is active among the population and looking less as though it’s seasonal, we’ll be living with it rumbling on until a vaccine is developed.
This means its presence in our lives is the new reality and we need to adapt. The sooner we start this process the better.
Don’t expect things to return to ‘normal’ any time soon – harness the creativity of your team and start innovating.
A virus of this type sees humans at their most exposed – there are no fast fixes, no pills that can be taken. Our only defence is the state of our health and our immune system.
It would be inappropriate for us as an industry to cynically exploit this situation for financial gain, but we may find that genuine and well-intentioned engagement around health and resilience will find a more receptive audience going forward.
Most important is our role in boosting morale, as this crisis will be especially challenging for people with mental health issues.