The fitness industry continues to bear the brunt of COVID-19

Numerous assumptions are hovering when it comes to evaluating the decision of not allowing fitness centers to open.

By Lokesh Mansukhani
Since the last quinquennium, the fitness industry was evolving at a steady pace. Innovative trends of providing a variety of services and novel business models were all the rage. Launch of ‘Fit India Movement’ by Mr. Narendra Modi in August 2019 on national sports day, was cherry on top. The movement aimed at encouraging India’s 130 crore population to remain healthy and fit by including physical activities and sports in their daily lives, carving an opportunity for several national and international fitness brands to expand and grow. It was likely that not only fitness coaches and operators will gain the edge from this movement, but also the suppliers of gym equipment and nutrient, as well as manufacturers and other stakeholders, are expected to win a lot. As per a sports ministry proposal, 2019 was to focus on ‘physical fitness and mental wellbeing’ whereas 2020 belonged to ‘healthy food and eating habits’.

The industry that was all set to bloom is on the verge to wither if remained prohibited to open. Including all categories and varieties, approximately there are about 2 Lakh fitness or wellness centers across India employing somewhere around 11-12 Lakh individuals. The loss, be it financial, emotional, or physical, that has incurred in the last 3-4 months of lockdown is unthinkable, and it continues unabated. Shubham Jain, Co-Founder, Quantum Fitness, worryingly states that “Time that it will take to reinstate is equivocal. The psychological shift that has resulted from an erroneous picture painted is far more critical to repaint. People consider fitness centers as the biggest risk zones, which is not reality. Not allowing gyms to open is conveying a wrong message, breeding an irreparable mindset. Educated people and fitness enthusiasts are aware, but they are quite small in number.”

Assumedly fitness industry will witness a crush in memberships by 50-60{554322552816a46baa129cc1ab31b2aae22be5e23f407658ace83a643d80b0e9} owing to the loss of season time and resurrection time required to adapt to the changing landscape. Large and mid-segment brands will still see the light, but the small ones are already dropping the ball. All the downsides accumulatively will entail a tragic business loss of about 60-70{554322552816a46baa129cc1ab31b2aae22be5e23f407658ace83a643d80b0e9} as compared to the previous year, along with accruing large-scale unemployment. “Brutal truth is that most of the people employed in the fitness industry are unfortunately not well equipped to switch the industry or change the profession, which leaves them all the more unguarded. Besides, the fitness trainer, a key motivation for the member, has himself encountered great physique loss, which is his USP, which is another addition to the misery.” Expresses Himanshu Shekhawat, Fitness Manager, Anytime Fitness. It doesn’t end here. Recorded losses are also stressfully shared by allied industries like gym equipment, nutrition, fitness apparel and accessories, and more.

What floors the fitness industry is the unreasonable bias spotted during all phases of unlocking. Places like temples, salons, bars, and restaurants are allowed to open but not the fitness center, how irrational is that? “Fitness centers are far more competent than temples and bars when it comes to obeying the safety protocols as set by the government. Imperatively one can never track the incalculable footfalls at temples and bars. However, fitness centers already have an efficient format in use to track each of its members. Salons where the probabilities of spreading the virus are quite high due to the immediate close contact around eyes, nose, and mouth, are allowed to operate but not the fitness centers! Repeated affirmations are that good immunity is the key resort to the problem & it is equally prevalent that exercise and a good diet can help one attain the same. Isn’t it ironic that the industry that can be a catalyst to combat the virus, is still shut, gathering dust?” underlines, Ankur Vijay, Co-founder, Quantum Fitness.

Numerous assumptions are hovering when it comes to evaluating the decision of not allowing fitness centers to open. Khemraj Mahawar, Senior Fitness Trainer, Golds Gym states that “Nearly 3 to 4{554322552816a46baa129cc1ab31b2aae22be5e23f407658ace83a643d80b0e9} of the population in India visit fitness centers which are tremendously less in ratio as compared to any other industry. Also, because the sector is relatively less organized, its contribution to the national tax coffers is presumably not considerable. Can these be the reasons for overlooking the fact that the fitness industry is the backbone of the nation’s physical health and can also be an imperative participant in battle against COVID 19.”

From the very first unlocking phase, fitness brands are well prepared with updated operational methods and marketing strategies, but their wait doesn’t seem to be seeing an end. Moreover, WHO has recently confirmed that the outbreaks that have occurred in crowded spaces suggest the possibility of aerosol transmission. It also indicates that fitness classes can be one such risk zone. The announcement further adds to the plight and precarity!

(The author is Head – Group Communications, KGK Group. Views expressed are personal.)

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