Fitness industry set for long road back into financial shape

Ramon Royandoyan - Philstar.com
This September 8, 2020, photo shows a gym instructor in Quezon City amid the coronavirus lockdown in the city.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE 6:43 p.m., Sept. 9) — Getting fit just got harder during a pandemic when everyone is stuck at home, but as fitness centers finally reopened this month, gyms are banking on the Filipino’s enduring desire to remain healthy to get back in financial shape.

Similar with toning muscles however, the recovery process will be long and difficult with movement restrictions still in place. Hand sanitizers and temperature checks would be a common feature in gyms, while group classes would have to wait until the government allows them back, too. 

For returning patrons, scheduling workouts ahead will become a norm. At Anytime Fitness, the country’s largest gym franchise with 136 branches nationwide, disinfection of gym equipment would also be done every 2 hours. Face masks must also be worn when entering establishments, but due to health risks, are not mandatory when working out. 

“Our focus is on proper operations that ensure everyone is safe at our gyms,” Anytime Fitness said in a statement.

After reopening was postponed last August when stringent lockdowns were enforced briefly, fitness centers finally got back to business in Sept. 1 when the Duterte administration, keen on revitalizing a battered economy, permitted operations at 30% capacity. 

For the management, health prohibitions mean additional expenses for fitness centers that earned nothing over the past 6 months of lockdown. Fitness First Philippines was forced to "preserve cashflows" while still having to lay off 5% of its employees. 

“Our first sort of step is to just break-even, (that) is a milestone. And we don’t know when that’s going to happen, especially as we approach the 'Ber' months now in the Philippines. These are times when our business is quiet,” Mark Ellis, country manager at Fitness First, said in a phone interview.

“But we're hopeful that this year might be different. The coronavirus scare has affected the attitude of FIlipinos positively towards health as they become more concerned about keeping fit. Now more than ever, people are thinking about how to get themselves in shape," he added.

All 12 Fitness First and two Celebrity Fitness branches, which are under one operator, were given a go-signal to reopen, provided health regulations are followed, including a 3-meter distance among gym users.  

In another business, 10 of 26 Gold’s Gym local branches may get permanently shut down due to own financial constraints, following a bankruptcy filing from their US counterparts last May. “Half already opened with another 25% opening in a few more weeks. The rest are still in active negotiation,” said Mylene Mendoza-Dayrit, chief executive. 

Booming sector

The three gyms have recently formed a coalition with Slimmer’s World and International Federation of Bodybuilding Fitness, set to meet every quarter, to standardize health protocols and if needed, reach out to the government and study best practices. 

If any, a coalition of fitness centers only indicates the industry’s strong growth on the back of a young and health-conscious Filipino population. Before the pandemic struck, the domestic fitness sector was set to grow by a tenth every year between 2018 and 2023, according to Ken Research. 

That sterling growth means a lot of things, starting with an increase in the number of domestic fitness outlets to 45 per million people this year, next only to Malaysia’s 47 and Thailand’s 67, according to Euromonitor International, a market research firm.

It also means a boost to consumption activity, with revenues generated from sales of fitness apps and wearable devices set to surge nearly a third year-on-year to $146.18 million in 2020, according to Statista, a data provider.

But the uncertainty brought by the pandemic has tarnished all sterling projections, and while fitness centers are positive a recovery would happen next year, this still hinges largely on a vaccine becoming available. For the likes of Ferdinand Laforteza, a personal trainer at Anytime Fitness, the outbreak means losing a large chunk of his livelihood earnings.

“I focused with my online coaching, which I’m doing for the past 10 years. I also did some home service, but on a limited basis because not all clients want one-on-one training,” he said, partly in Filipino.

“Right now, we can survive, but it’s still different when you’re doing regular workouts. Online can’t sustain that long. It’s different having one-on-one sessions with your client and the motivation you can give,” he said.


Editor's note: Added quote from Fitness First's Mark Ellis

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