Gyms and fitness operators face a significant problem: How to compete with the giant tech companies in a space where their traditional skills have limited value. Far from being a phase, the rapid rise of tech gym solutions such as Peloton, Mindbody and ClassPass show that the health and fitness industry’s digital transition is intensifying, and shows no signs of slowing.
Tough Competition for Small Operators
Larger gym chains have responded by developing their own tech offerings. Gym apps now include functionality like workout tracking and guides for home workouts, with class booking being the most in-demand. With a member retention rate of just 61%, the aim is to halt the steady rise in previously-loyal members canceling their gym memberships for more flexible fitness options.
Smaller chains – who still comprise the majority of the market – don’t have the skills or capital to create their own tech, and risk demise if they cannot respond to present-day consumer demand. Instead, they have turned to larger digital players to help ‘level up’ their tech capabilities.
Most in demand is Mindbody, the gyms’ choice for an off-the-shelf class booking platform. Acquired last year for $1.9bn, the app helps smaller gyms offer the kind of user experience expected by Millennials and Gen Z, who are the most active consumers in the health and fitness space.
Gyms are also using tech platforms to attract more people, albeit on a temporary basis. The fitness industry’s newest unicorn, ClassPass, is leading the ‘flexible fitness’ charge, enabling subscribers to attend multiple classes at different fitness centers each month, with gyms earning revenue from each visitor.
Travelers Can Fill Gyms’ Spare Capacity
Fitness clubs are also looking for a revenue boost from sales to travelers. Recent data shows a majority of 18-36-year-olds are actively seeking options for staying fit when traveling, a newly-created opportunity for gyms. TrainAway offers gyms the chance to fill spare capacity with paying visitors from out of town, who use the app to buy day passes on a pay-as-you-go basis.
This shift in focus towards travelers coincides with travel companies putting more emphasis on all-round experiences, many of which involve staying active. Since the launch of Airbnb Experiences just over three years ago, all major online travel agencies now offer a wide range of activities to supplement flight or hotel bookings.
Booking.com, for example, gives local travel experience providers the opportunity to promote themselves and sell activities directly through their app. Acting solely as a payment provider and marketplace, the travel giant gives local tourism businesses an effective way of targeting international visitors.
Plugging a Hole in Airbnb’s Offering
However, these giants of the travel industry are yet to partner directly with gyms. The most likely entrant would be Airbnb, who are still unable to give their guests gym access, as most hotels can. A partnership between the vacation rentals platform and the fitness industry would be looked upon positively by forward-thinking local gyms while helping Airbnb attract travelers who will not compromise on access to quality fitness facilities.
The key barrier to this is the creation of local partnerships. With a sector as fragmented as the fitness industry, it takes significant time and investment to reach a critical mass of partnerships. More likely is the outright purchase of one of the existing gym platforms by one of the larger travel companies, providing the much-needed connection between local fitness operators and millions of potential users.