Recovery. It’s the word on everyone’s lips right now. Especially in the UK and other parts of the world where restrictions are being reduced. But what does ‘recovery’ look like for our sector? After months of closures and reduced capacities, what can operators look forward to in terms of attendance?
There is no centralised data source showing the complete market picture when it comes to trading in the world’s health clubs, gyms and studios, so we need to access and aggregate all available numbers to try to establish a picture of what’s going on.
Gympass works in partnership with 50,000 fitness facilities globally – 2,600 of them in the UK and around 12,000 in the US, with others in Latin America and elsewhere – to offer employees access to fitness and wellness activities as part of companies’ corporate health programmes.
It has been tracking performance pre-pandemic and post-lockdowns within these cohorts.
The sample is by definition skewed towards people who are in employment, but nonetheless, offers useful insights.
UK and US results
In the UK in February 2020 – pre-lockdown – the company recorded 63,504 consumer check-ins to health clubs, studios and gyms. By May 2021 – only weeks after reopening – the Gympass Recovery Index saw its UK operators pass the halfway mark in terms of recovery, with 53 per cent of the visits – or 33,657 check-ins – when compared to the pre-pandemic numbers.
This means they fared better than they had done in previous reopening phases in August and October 2020, when 33 per cent and 51 per cent of members respectively returned to the gym.
By June 2021, the figure rose to 61 per cent – or 38,737 check-ins – showing the speed of recovery.
Looking at other markets within the Gympass network, an extremely confident return to the gym was seen in Brazil and the US by June 2021, with 116 per cent and 95 per cent return rates respectively, when compared with pre-pandemic levels – Brazil being boosted by a short lockdown.
Total visits across the Gympass network globally saw a new high in June 2021 of 4.1m check-ins, up from 3.9m in February 2020 (vs 4m in May 2021). These results show operators in this cohort on their way back to full strength.
As expected with the new world of hybrid working, there are some interesting trends in terms of how visit numbers have differed across locations, with suburban areas seeing a stronger recovery compared to cities, as a significant proportion of people continued to limit their visits to the office.
In the US, the most active region post-lockdown has been the northeast, with the highest number of gym visits. By May 2021, New York had seen a 160 per cent increase in activity levels. Elsewhere in the US, California was just behind at 153 per cent.
So what has been drawing people back to their health clubs and studios?
Strength training has been the biggest draw globally, with 60 per cent of visitors heading straight for the resistance machines, dumbbell racks and functional training rigs. Consumers’ wait to get back to the weights has been long and drawn out, with this mode of training the hardest for people to replicate at home.
By comparison, only 15 per cent of visits globally in our sample were for cardio training, perhaps indicating people had found their ‘fix’ by running, cycling and downloading HIIT workouts during lockdown.
The timing of these in-facility sessions was well spread across the week and previously popular times were quick to be re-established. We saw some members sticking to the routine they know, with 12.7 per cent back at the traditional peak time of 6.00pm and 12.2 per cent at 7.00pm.
However, this varies from country to country. In the US, for example, members within the Gympass cohort have gone from being night owls during the pandemic to early birds, with 7.00am renewing its top spot as the favourite time to work out. Across Europe and the UK, 5.00pm (7.2 per cent of members) and 7.00pm (12.9 per cent) are still the most popular times.
This gives us an indication that working from home makes things look pretty similar, however as people return to the office we might see a change in attendance times.
While the industry pivoted brilliantly to bring a wealth of activity to people in their homes and gardens, it wasn’t possible to recreate the gym or group exercise environments. The kit, the energy and motivation drawn from working out alongside others remains a huge selling point for facilities.
While the recovery is most definitely underway, with some operators already back to pre-pandemic levels, it won’t be plain sailing for all facilities and some will need to work hard to keep members engaged in brick and mortar activities. Lockdown brought a proliferation of fitness and wellness services onto people’s phones and into their homes. Fitness fans are now used to the ultimate convenience when it comes to choosing their next workout.
Hybrid work practices are likely to see people combining commuting with working from home, operators will need to ensure they can match this new behaviour. Offering digital classes, virtual PT sessions and a range of mental health and wellness options alongside their in-person delivery will keep all bases covered. Not just for now but in case, dare we say it, restrictions tighten again.
What we’re seeing from members is hugely positive. They’re craving the sense of community that a gym or a studio brings and are returning in big numbers. For the coming months, we expect our sample in the UK to return to pre-pandemic levels and predict this will be even higher in the US and Brazil. We believe the hybrid model will shape the immediate future of how people want to work out and it’s fantastic to see members coming back into facilities once again.
We can be confident that the recovery is underway, but we must not be complacent. The fleet of foot operators and those who truly listen to what their members are asking for and watch closely how their members are behaving have every opportunity to emerge from the pandemic with strength and confidence.