Andreas, to begin with, I would like to thank you for your willingness to participate in this conversation and, above all, for your daily work for the fitness industry – to enable fitness clubs to reopen. Your actions have provided hope for those in the fitness sector that soon, they will be able to take better care of their health through physical activity once again.
For last few months, the entire world has been struggling with the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. During the lockdown, fitness clubs have had to prove to their governments that they are safe and necessary and part of the solution in the fight against the virus.
As representatives of EuropeActive, you support the entire sector. What is the current economic situation in the fitness industry in Europe and its prognosis?
“We are certainly at a challenging, unprecedented time in our sector’s history. Understanding how the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns across Europe have affected our economy is essential to how we adjust and adapt as a sector. EuropeActive commissioned the study “QUO VADIS ?” Impact of Covid-19 on the European fitness and physical activity sector to find out more about the short- and longer-term impacts to European fitness club operators as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Disregarding significant differences across European countries in terms of club size and revenue, average income shortfalls for 2020 are expected at ~30% and for 2021 at ~11%.
Results also revealed that the use of digital channels and technologies drastically increased, allowing operators to keep in touch and engage with their customers and members during the crisis. Understanding that actors, large and small, across the European fitness and physical activity sector are facing severe difficulties, we need to put egos and narrow interests aside and work together as a united industry to come back stronger”.
Where do you think the difference in the perception of our sector in different countries comes from? There are countries that decided not to close Fitness Clubs. There are also those that consider clubs and gyms as places of entertainment and their activities have been suspended.
One of the reasons we put our Sectoral Manifesto for EuropeActive’s Horizon 2025 together was to ensure the most positive future for our sector as recognised providers of physical and mental health and wellbeing support for the citizens of our communities. We need to make sure this message is picked up by governments and decision-making institutions to make them understand the importance of fitness and physical activity for people’s social and mental health and for their general wellbeing. At the same time, we need to achieve a unified position as a sector to advance the vital role we play when it comes to fighting inactivity and other lifestyle diseases, very much aligned with the ‘Exercise is medicine’ message.
In Poland we have still not been presented with logical arguments for the basis on which the government decided to ban the commercial activities of the Clubs. How have governments justified their stance on fitness clubs during the pandemic?
We have been experiencing further lockdowns around Europe and beyond precisely because fitness clubs and leisure facilities are not widely regarded, certainly not by political decision-makers and health authorities, as essential providers of services that enhance health and wellbeing. While some countries like Denmark, Sweden, the UK or the Netherlands acknowledged the importance of physical activity for citizens’ mental and physical wellbeing and kept their facilities open, other countries have remained closed during these challenging times. Our Manifesto aims to be a turning point for our industry to be perceived as a credible solution to multiple public health issues effecting European citizens. Furthermore, the ability of our sector to work side by side with representative trade associations has proven to be essential to demonstrate the safety and low Covid-19 risk in fitness and exercise facilities.
Recently you published the SafeACTiVE study, which has been widely echoed across the fitness world. You confirmed that the risk of COVID-19 infection in Fitness Clubs is minimal. What is the aftermath of this study today? Did it help to change fitness club restrictions in certain countries?
The preliminary results collected by our research and evaluation partners at King Juan Carlos University and AWRC-Sheffield Hallam University were very encouraging as they revealed extremely low levels of Covid-19 risk in fitness clubs and leisure facilities.
With the SafeACTiVE study, commissioned by EuropeActive’s Research Centre THINK Active, we aim to mitigate the public health concerns of users and staff, as well as confirm that fitness clubs are safe environments with a relatively low risk of Covid-19 infection.
We envisage to present the final figures in the coming days to offer the fitness and physical activity sector a strong argument to present to their local and national governments for keeping our physical facilities and places of business open during any future outbreaks of infectious diseases.
What other actions did you take during the pandemic? What was the authorities’ reaction?
The SafeACTIVE Study resonated across the sector and our core arguments – that fitness is part of the solution rather than the problem and that our sector’s health and economic impact in society is important – have worked effectively with authorities in certain countries. During the second wave, in countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK, the fitness sector has remained open despite general restrictions.
We have gradually built up a status for our sector as being essential to health and wellbeing, and we hope other countries will follow suit and put their citizens’ physical and mental health at the forefront of any strategy to fight back against the virus.
But our actions do not stop there. We have been incredibly busy during this period: we successfully launched EuropeActive’s new research center ‘THINK Active’, which eventually aims to become a think tank for the fitness and physical activity sector; increased our communications with consumers, members and stakeholders via ongoing roundtables to share best-practice; established a series of free educational webinars; assisted our national fitness associations to help with their public affairs strategies; coordinated our efforts across European countries; implemented a Covid-19 operational guide for fitness clubs and launched the president’s Council for Operator CEOs, among other things.
All of these actions should all play a part in helping our sector emerge out of the current crisis stronger and more fit for the future than ever before as they will help convince authorities of the importance of fitness for the health and wellbeing of their citizens.
(All the information regarding EuropeActive’s initiatives can be found at http://www.europeactive.eu/covid19 )
When we talk about a period of time when a pandemic is ongoing, our statements tend to be negative. However, if I were to indicate some benefits, the pandemic in Poland certainly forced the development of the digitization of Clubs. Can you see any benefits of the current situation for the fitness industry?
The Covid-19 pandemic has shown our entire sector ecosystem that digitalisation and fitness-tech is existentially important to reach out to fitness consumers of all backgrounds. As a sector we must hasten the process of digitalisation to better understand and improve services to our consumers and to expand our market beyond current perceived physical and social boundaries.
One of the main benefits of digitalization and fitness tech is that fitness operators can reach their clients and members outside of ‘brick and mortar’ clubs, making it easier to keep a fitness regimen for those who are unable to leave the house, something which could also prove popular post c19 for those who are time constrained or who enjoy a workout from home. It also allows personal trainers to stay in contact with their clients with ease and work with them without the regular constraints of time and space.
Another very important aspect is that digitization can make fitness more accessible and inclusive as it allows vulnerable citizens who have to shield at home due to health concerns to get involved. This is a simple way of ensuring that no one is left out – as we keep saying, fitness is crucial to individual’s physical and mental wellbeing, and no one should ever feel that they cannot participate in something that they can benefit from enormously. This is where digitilisation and fitness tech play a very important role, bringing fitness to citizens rather than expecting citizens to seek it out themselves.Through our Manifesto’s ‘Digital’ headline, our association aims to facilitate and give focus to our sector’s digital and tech community at all our major events going forward. Accordingly, we established an advisory digital steering committee which ran our educational webinars on digital and tech, and which will enable EuropeActive to intellectually lead the sectoral debate on digitalisation. In line with EuropeActive’s overall ambition of establishing several Advisory Boards for primary stakeholder groups of EuropeActive in order to closely listen to their inputs and needs, the President’s Council for Fitness Equipment Suppliers and President’s Council for Digital and Tech are envisaged to be launched at the European Health and Fitness Forum (EHFF) in April 2021.
Can you name clubs’ good practices and activities that allowed them to survive this time?
This public health crisis has proven that our industry is able to work together for the greater good when needed. We have experienced numerous examples of our members’ solidarity when we reached out to them to help support our community of EREPS members, a register of fitness professionals including instructors, trainers and teachers working in the European fitness sector. A wide range of operators, digital and tech companies, suppliers and training providers provided our EREPS members with digital solutions that assisted fitness professionals in continuing to deliver a service to their clients.
It is therefore essential to have close relations and open communication with members/customers in order to support our businesses during a crisis like this one. Digital and tech are important to reach members and customers outside the four walls of the club.
Hybrid offerings will certainly remain and be the future post-C19. The more unique, differentiated, customer value-centred and experience-focused the business model and offerings , (as opposed to generic), the better the chances to be remembered and to be on the radar of the customer/member when the lockdown is lifted.
What conclusions should the entire industry draw from the past months and what steps should it take to protect itself for the future?
The sector has adapted to the challenging circumstances (although we recognise that a large part of the industry is currently suffering) through self-critical creative thinking. Our sector is in many ways and in many places reinventing itself to become significantly better. This will be the basis of the essential improvement of our sector for the future and has come together with trade associations as the common deliberative meeting and sharing place of our sector.
We should embrace all businesses and organizations working seriously and creatively to get more people more active, thus helping citizens of Europe and beyond to live healthier lives through physical wellbeing. Despite the current pandemic, the European fitness and physical activity market has become an international point of reference with quite impressive growth figures underscoring this recognition. Although recovery will vary depending on several factors, I am pleased to see how adaptable our sector has been throughout this crisis. It is of paramount importance to work together to reposition our sector as effective providers of physical, social and mental wellbeing. This in accordance with EuropeActive’s vision for the European fitness and physical activity sector as stated in our Manifesto’s long-term priorities of Health, Digital, Community and Standards, defined in close collaboration with all types of fitness and physical activity stakeholders across our ecosystem.