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09 Sep 2020
Most gyms in New Zealand and Australia have reopened - what are the learnings?
By Tom Walker
Most gyms in New Zealand and Australia have reopened - what are the learnings?
Some operators in New Zealand and Australia saw attendance reach 90 per cent of pre-COVID-19 levels within weeks
Photo: Shutterstock.com/NDAB Creativity
Althought local lockdowns are impacting gyms in Melbourne and also the state of Victoria, most gyms across Australia and New Zealand began reopening in mid-May. Key operators have been sharing their learnings with HCM magazine.

Overall, the picture has been positive for gyms in the two countries, with some operators seeing attendances reach 90 per cent of pre-COVID-19 levels within weeks.

Snap Fitness, which operates 220 clubs in Australia and 56 in New Zealand has seen attendances grow rapidly, as CEO, Ty Menzies explained: "Attendance levels are around 90 per cent of pre-COVID numbers, even with restrictions," he said, speaking exclusively to HCM.

“The biggest challenge we face at the moment is not being able to operate 24/7 in some states, given this is one of our core offerings. Secondly, the varying restrictions in each Australian state.”

Menzies' advice to is to ensure all protocols are followed rigorously. “Keep open communication with your internal team members," he added.

"If you’re transparent about what’s going on, and have a solid plan in place, it provides clear direction and comfort.

"Also, ensure you work closely with your local government and fitness governing body to have all the right information first hand.”

Les Mills Clubs, which has 15 locations across New Zealand, also opened its sites at the earliest opportunity and reports growth in new joiners.

“We’ve had an uptick in online sales since we reopened, so our website has proved very useful," said Brett Sutton, head of operations.

"Four weeks after opening our doors we were already at 88 per cent of normal attendance.

“Our main focus has been on reactivating members who put their membership on pause, while at the same time ensuring our people are confident and optimistic about what lies ahead," he explained. “The biggest challenge has been getting clarity from the government regarding studio/room limits. The second biggest challenge has been that distancing requirements put pressure on our popular classes and we had to turn people away.”

It isn't just the large operators that have seen members return to their sites, either.

Neil Wagstaff is the co-owner of Independently-owned Peak Fitness and Health, which operates a single site in Hastings, New Zealand.

"One month in, we're operating at around 80 per cent of previous revenue levels and are confident this will continue to rise gradually over the coming months," Wagstaff told HCM.

While most gyms are now back up and running – and the overall attendance figures have been positive across most of the two countries – there are, however, some exceptions.

This is most notably the case in the Australian state of Victoria, where a cautious approach by Premier Daniel Andrews has meant gyms have been able to operate for only a matter of days since March.

Gyms and exercise studios in Victoria were the last in the country to reopen on 22 June, after closing in mid-March – and were then forced to shut again after just two-and-a-half weeks (8 July), after Andrews declared a six-week lockdown, which has subsequently been extended.

Matters for gyms weren't helped by Victoria's chief health officer, professor Brett Sutton (no relation to Les Mills' Brett Sutton), claiming, in a press briefing on 7 September, that gyms and health clubs were a “known high-risk setting” and that health clubs “cause outbreaks”.

In response, industry body, Fitness Australia, penned a furious letter, slamming Sutton and calling on him to produce evidence to back up his claims.

"If you are aware of any data showing that gyms 'cause outbreaks', please share it with us so that we can make our COVID-safe protocols even more effective," the letter reads.

"Your words were devastating to thousands of gym owners, exercise professionals, personal trainers and gym members across Victoria.

"Devastating, because many owners, sole traders and employees see their livelihoods being destroyed through no fault of their own and despite endeavouring to work collaboratively with Victorian authorities."

• To read a full-length article, in which operators reveal their insights on the first months of reopening, click here for Issue 7 2020 of HCM.

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