The global fitness industry, like many other industries, is going through a period of change. It’s being disrupted.
In the UAE, there are 800 fitness clubs with 523,000 members – that’s 6 per cent penetration, or 6 per cent of the population who belong to a gym. Take the more mature UK market, which enjoys 15 per cent penetration, and you can see that the UAE market has huge potential for growth.
In my opinion, this growth will come from segmentation of the market. I don’t expect significant net growth in the number of clubs but instead the emergence of boutique clubs, which offer specific workout types such as boxing, indoor cycling or group fitness classes, and from low-cost concepts, which will squeeze the mid-market. To survive, clubs in this bracket need to rethink the way they operate.
Fitness First, for example, stays relevant by reinventing products and designing clubs to meet the expectations of today’s consumer. They strategically reposition themselves regularly, while clubs that have closed, simply haven’t moved with the times.
In terms of pricing, we can also expect change. The average UAE gym membership is AED 440 per month, which is high, and I suspect that will go down, particularly with the emergence of more affordable gym memberships. Low-cost club Gym Nation was AED 99 per month before it’s official launch in April, but it’s now AED 199. At that price, it’s not true low cost, but that will come eventually.
As membership prices decrease, there will be a further segmentation of the market into premium, boutique and low cost. Globally, low-cost has been shown to increase gym membership as it becomes more affordable for more people.
In 2016, the UAE fitness market was worth AED 1.3 billion. By 2022, it’s forecast to hit AED 3 billion. That’s more than double in six years. The reason? The disruptors, companies that shake up the industry and challenge the normal way of doing things, and the aggregators, who bring together a range of services, mostly through an app.
Disruptors, such as Gym Nation with their low-cost, big facilities, will dramatically increase penetration. Aggregators, such as ClassPass, which offers classes in more than 140 gyms across the city for a set monthly fee, have been highly successful in other markets and is one of the world’s largest fitness aggregators.
Then you’ve got extremely smart initiatives such as the Dubai Fitness Challenge, which spurs people into action. When you see the huge take-up of the annual 30-day event – it attracted one million participants – you know the market is ready. The challenge for the UAE’s gym industry now is to open itself up and attract the population’s 94 per cent who are not yet gym members.