We know we’re controlling COVID-19 in gyms and delivering safe environments for members, thanks to regular studies by our global trade associations, with transmission results from IHRSA, Fitness Australia and ukactive giving a solid base of evidence with which to fight our corner.
In addition, evidence is emerging to indicate that COVID-19 transmission is actually happening in harder-to-regulate establishments, such as restaurants.
New research from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US found that adults who tested positive for COVID-19 were twice as likely to have eaten in restaurants in the previous two weeks.
Community and Close Contact Exposures Associated with COVID-19, found restaurant attendance was the only factor which correlated with testing positive for the virus.
So now we’re well on the way to winning a reputation for safe operations and the true sources of transmission are starting to be identified, what are the next challenges?
In addition to building and refining hybrid options, two of the biggest are meeting capacity demands and winning back members, with operators reporting they’ve lost anywhere between 10 and 40 per cent, depending on location.
Location itself is another challenge, with homeworking skewing the performance of sites in office catchments.
All these pressures will begin to reshape the industry, as some operators go into disposal and investment cycles to shed poorly performing sites and take advantage of more favourable locations.
Safety limits on class numbers are a concern – we know group ex is a huge driver of retention, so the fact many operators are having to limit class numbers is having a reverse effect, with some members leaving because they can’t get slots.
We need creative yield management solutions to increase capacity, prevent this attrition and optimise the powerful engagement of group exercise. We’d love to see an industry thinktanks convened to tackle this and propose practical, creative solutions.
Also challenging are changes to guidelines which are confusing consumers – the UK’s ‘rule of six’, for example, which bans gatherings of more than six people, doesn’t apply to gyms and yet many consumers are unaware of this and operators are reporting attendance dips as a result.
Keeping very closely connected with members is vital if we are to earn and re-earn their loyalty and also to get the cut-through to ensure they understand new rulings.
It’s telling that a recent survey (p27) indicates boutiques – with their deep member engagement – are back to pre-COVID-19 trading levels in some world regions.