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Australasian fitness industry looks to post Coronavirus operations

Australasian fitness industry looks to post Coronavirus operations
April 22, 2020

With the New Zealand Government set to ease Coronavirus restrictions as of next week and Australian Federal and state Governments indicating that they will do the same in the coming weeks, fitness facility operators are contemplating the reopening of clubs and what the industry will look like when they do.

In Australia, the Federal Government shut gyms along with cinemas, nightclubs, churches and pubs, clubs and hotels from midday on 23rd March to slow the spread of Coronavirus while New Zealand moved to 'Level 4' restrictions as of four weeks as of midnight on Wednesday 25th March.

Since then fitness training has largely moved online, or been a one-on-one activity.

However, with US President Donald Trump announcing that gyms would be including in Phase 1 of that nation's Reopening Plan, a move described by the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) as "a small victory", Australasian operators are daring to dream of their own reopening.

While some New Zealand operators feel that next week's Level 3 status applies to them, Exercise Industry Association on New Zealand (ExerciseNZ) Chief Executive, Richard Beddie dismisses the notion, simply advising "they are wrong" and that gyms and studios will not be able to operate until the country moves to Level 2.

In Australia, reports today suggest that, despite great strides being made in flattening the infection curve, facilities won't be opened until after the winter and that they'll be required to follow strict social distancing rules in the operations.

Justin Ashley, Chief Executive of The Fitness Playground, which has four sites in Sydney, says they are hopeful doors will be open sooner rather than later, but concedes that its operations will be different.

Ashley told Daily Mail Australia, "we know it won't be business as usual immediately. However, if gyms were able to open even at a reduced capacity, that would be a positive step for the industry as well as for the health and fitness of our community as a whole."

Social distancing will be key to gym operations in a post Coronavirus environment but it is acknowledged it will be particularly difficult to manage in many unstaffed 24/7 facilities.

Arrangements might include increasing the space between equipment to ensure exercisers stay at least 1.5 metres from each other and limiting how many people are allowed inside at once. 

The President of the Australasian College for Infection Prevention and Control Professor Phil Russo said opening gyms would be "quite challenging" due to their operation in confined spaces.  

Professor Russo told Daily Mail Australia "gyms I think are going to be quite challenging when it comes to rolling back these decisions ... because they gather a large number of people in small areas."

Suggesting the resumption of operations might be in stages, Professor Russo noted "it may start with an aerobics class that once had 40 people, it would start with 10 in it."

Professor Russo said the gradual loosening of restrictions would need to be analysed over a period of a few weeks to ensure they don't contribute to further Coronavirus outbreak, adding "those things would be well planned and gradually introduced. You want to make sure that it's not causing further spread."

Australian National University Professor of Microbiology, Peter Collignon agreed that reopening would need to be in stages, while also emphasising facilities will need to enhance their cleaning regimes.

Professor Collignon stated "(it would be) a gradual thing where physical distance rules are going to have to be respected for quite a while and hand hygiene."

Professor Collignon added that people with respiratory issues also shouldn't be allowed to use gyms.

New Business Models
Beyond the reopening of facilities, forward thinking operators are realising that, as Dan Henderson, Director of the Functional Training Institute and founder of Dan Henderson Coaching, explains "the fitness industry will never be the same".

While gyms have been closed due to the Coronavirus lockdown people have found new ways to exercise - using virtual technology at home or simply walking and cycling in the outdoors - and may be reluctant to rejoin facilities and programs.

Henderson, whose thoughts on what the fitness industry will look like post lockdown will be featured on the is website tomorrow, explains "the worst mistake operators can make is to assume that the business model that worked so successfully for them pre-COVID 19 will work for them once the lockdown is over. 

"The fitness industry is saturated. There is more competition than ever before with new franchises, boutiques and mega gyms popping up on every street corner. However, that is now likely to change as we see a ‘thinning of the herd’."

Fitness entrepreneur Mel Tempest see that clubs will need to create new business models.

She sets out a 10-point plan for clubs to consider:

1. Awareness Marketing (social media, phone calls, emails, text messages) - "build hype" - what is your clubs opening slogan and hashtag?
2. Prepare to run your business online and live. Not everybody will return straight away.
3. Launch new programs and a new timetable. Do not just open the doors.
4. Look at your membership options, reduce how many options you have. Get your staff up skilled to cope with new selling strategies.
5. Re-visit your mission vision and values
6. Organise new staff policy and procedures. Your business is not the same business it was when you closed the doors.
7. Get your team back together as a community
8. Reward your 'rockstars' who went beyond the call of duty
9. Reward yourself for getting those doors open again
10. Celebrate and show gratitude

US clubs to reopen
President Trump's announcement last Thursday that the USA's Reopening Plan would include the reopening of fitness clubs (along with sit-down restaurants and cinemas) in phase one of a three phase program for restarting the country's economy, to be introduced in some states, came as a surprise to many.

With President Trump's inconsistent approach to policy to combat the Coronavirus pandemic, it should be noted that his move to include the reopening of gyms ahead of schools, came a day after the US leader’s teleconference with 16 business leaders including Bahram Akradi, Chief Executive of fitness club chain Life Time and Stephen Ross, a high-profile Trump supporter and the founder and Chairman of the Related Companies - whose portfolio includes Equinox Holdings, which owns its own eponymous chain of luxury gyms as well as fitness brands SoulCycle, Blink Fitness, and Pure Yoga.


About the author

Nigel Benton

Co-owner / Publisher, Australasian Leisure Management

Nigel Benton is the co-owner and publisher of Australasian Leisure Management, Australia and New Zealand’s only magazine for professionals in all areas of the leisure industry. Having established the magazine in 1997, shortly after his relocation to Australia, he has managed its readership rising to over 11,500 and its acceptance as the industry journal for professionals in aquatics, attractions, entertainment, events, fitness, parks, recreation, sport, tourism and venues.

As of 2020, he has launched the new Asian Leisure Business website.

Among a range of published works and features, his comments on a Blog (blogspot) from 2007 to 2011, when this website went live in its current form, may be interesting to reflect back on.

Click here to connect with him via LinkedIn.

Read more from this author

Related Articles

21st April 2020 - New Zealand Government looks to ease Coronavirus restrictions

17th April 2020 - Prime Minister Morrison outlines plans for lifting of Coronavirus restrictions

22nd April 2020 - ExerciseNZ highlights that gyms’ commercial leases need to be regulated

9th April 2020 - Key exercise bodies produce New Zealand’s biggest online fitness directory during lockdown

3rd April 2020 - Eight out of 10 New Zealand trainers and exercise facilities now operating online

25th March 2020 - Prime Minister’s announcement approves group outdoor exercise with a maximum of 10 people

7th April 2020 - Two-thirds of the world’s fitness clubs are currently closed

2nd April 2020 - Fitness Australia encourages Australians to ‘Keep on Moving’

31st March 2020 - With clubs closed fitness providers go online

30th March 2020 - One-on-one fitness training still approved during COVID-19

24th March 2020 - Fitness Australia shares clarification on what constitutes a gym

25th October 2018 - Fitness entrepreneur and ‘contrarian’ Mel Tempest receives special industry communication and marketing award

7th October 2019 - FITREC eases path to fitness employment for exercise and sport students

27th September 2018 - FITREC names Mel Tempest as Global Ambassador

6th March 2020 - IHRSA publication seeks Fitness Industry support for Global Goals

9th January 2020 - IHRSA Passport Program aims to provide easy and affordable access to gyms worldwide

19th March 2020 - Gyms emphasise hygiene practices but look for business support 

17th March 2020 - Fitness First highlights gym hygiene measures

13th March 2020 - Gyms focus on hygiene measures to reassure members through Coronavirus crisis

9th March 2020 - Hygiene essential in fitness facilities reassuring members over Coronavirus fears

19th August 2019 - Melbourne event to support women in fitness

28th January 2020 - Melbourne Fitness Business Summit set to Ignite the industry for 2020

12th February 2020 - US President Trump to attend inauguration of world’s largest cricket stadium during upcoming Indian visit

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