The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unparalleled destruction to global health, social and economic systems. It has impacted a lot of different aspects of our lives, from how we interact with people to how we work, and even how we shop. The coronavirus pandemic has indeed shaken up nearly every consumer category, influencing new consumer behaviors, putting a strain on many categories of workers, stifling entire industries and inspiring growth in others. The fitness industry is one of them.
Entrepreneurs, instructors and personal trainers have had to deal with the closure of gyms imposed by the government and the consequent losses deriving from missed receipts and recurring fixed expenses to be paid. Before the pandemic, the global fitness industry was a booming $4.5 trillion business, but now things are expected to change. While the market size of the fitness club industry in the United Kingdom grew to above £2 billion in the years leading up to the pandemic, forecasts suggest that its value will fall to £1.62 billion in 2021.
The fitness and wellness industry has had to make particularly marked changes and reconsider overall what it means to be well in the age of a pandemic. In this scenario, new opportunities have opened up and those who have been able to seize them and reinvent themselves have done business even in such a negative period from a historic and economic point of view.
Analysing data from Google Trends, there has been an increased interest in the key word 'online fitness', especially from April last year, at the height of the first lockdown, and a decrease in searches for the term 'gym'. Comparing the number of gym membership subscriptions in the first week of September 2019 and the first week of September 2020, which is the period in which the boom in subscriptions usually occurs, we noticed a decrease of about 20%. This demonstrates that, even after the reopening of the gyms, the fear of contagion in closed and crowded places has made some people desist from joining them.
However, the data also suggests that, despite challenges to an active lifestyle, the Covid-19 lockdowns may have led to an increase in population-level interest and engagement with physical activity. According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, potential explanations for the relative increase in exercise interest include compensation for reduced incidental activities, availability of discretionary time, increased health awareness and ubiquitous messages recommending exercise during COVID-19 from media, governments and health authorities, such as the World Health Organization.
The rapid digitalisation of the fitness industry played a hug role for its survival. Covid-19 limitations forced all professionals in the sector to reorganise their work. Most of them started remote online coaching, which guaranteed not only to manage their current customers but also to expand their clientele. That means there’s a significant opportunity for fitness businesses to reach customers they’ve never met—globally.
From digital coaching of personal trainers to social media and fitness apps, the fitness market is increasingly full of technological solutions designed to create value and provide customers with accessible services during this period. In particular, studies show that online classes and personal training are the activities that have had the greatest growth between the first and second lockdown, as much as 1,550%. Followed closely by online pilates and online yoga.
If there's one thing the pandemic has made clear, it's that a healthy lifestyle definitely pays off. According to the WHO, those who are healthy are also better able to defeat the virus. Suddenly, health has been on everyone's mind and people have become increasingly concerned about their sedentary lifestyles. In light of this, fitness has come to occupy a more conscious space in our lives, allowing us to stay healthy while we work or study from home. Well-being has emerged as a key focus for everyone readjusting to a life in the Covid era. And after months of social distancing, consumers’ approach to fitness and overall wellness may be permanently altered, experts say.
Fitness is no longer about six pack abs and toned bums, but rather about an ongoing lifestyle focused on health, wellness and nutrition.
“It’s not about bikini body goals, because who knows when we’re going to go on vacation again - said Josh McCarter, Chief Executive Officer of the fitness booking platform MindBody - Covid-19 has pushed people to think about health more holistically.” And it seems like those changes in perspectives are here to stay. While "billions will be lost in the wellness industry in 2020 because of months of shuttered brick-and-mortar businesses - said Beth McGroarty, vice president of research for the Global Wellness Institute - at the big-picture, long-term level, the case for the wellness concept and wellness markets post-pandemic looks very bullish."
Written by Miriam Tagini