14% of British adults state that including mental-health or emotional-wellbeing services as part of a gym membership would encourage them to return or join, increasing to 27% for those who were members just before COVID-19. The lockdown period intensified feelings of social isolation and these statistics highlight the potential role of fitness clubs as places of holistic wellbeing.

Some Brits are still nervous about visiting or returning to a gym, which highlights the need for operators to demonstrate what protective measures have been taken. As the virus clears and the economy recovers, demand for health and fitness venues is expected to return to, and eventually exceed, its pre-COVID level. As more Brits prioritise both their physical and mental health, venues will attract a wider audience.

The digital fitness sector has become increasingly crowded during the outbreak, with online exercise services now a must-have rather than a differentiator. Clubs will need a radical shift in thought to capitalise on the digital movement. The future of fitness will involve digital technologies regardless of location, creating a seamless fitness experience that customers can use anywhere and anytime.

Venues’ role as community ‘third places’ has never been more critical. People need to feel connected with one another more than ever, and to have spaces outside of their own homes. There are new opportunities for operators to strengthen community ties and make clubs essential hubs of holistic wellbeing, particularly if they can tap into emerging lifestyle trends in the era of remote work.

Key issues covered in this Report

  • The impact of COVID-19 on the UK private health and fitness club market.

  • Competition between online and offline fitness services.

  • Key differentiators of health and fitness clubs.

  • Consumer interest in additional services such as mental health and digital content.

  • Consumer perceptions of leading health and fitness club providers.

COVID-19: market context (created 2 September, 2020)

The first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the UK at the end of January, with a small number of cases in February. The government focused on the ‘contain’ stage of its strategy, with the country continuing to operate much as normal. As the case level rose, the government ordered the closure of non-essential stores on 20 March.

A wider lockdown requiring people to stay at home except for essential shopping, exercise and work ‘if absolutely necessary’ followed on 23 March. Initially, a three-week timeframe was put on the measures, which was extended in mid-April for another three weeks.

The Health Protections Regulations 2020 came into effect on 15 June, allowing the reopening of all non-essential stores in England as well as the mandatory use of face coverings on public transport. Pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers were able to reopen on 4 July, with many beauty businesses following on 13 July.

From 24 July, it became mandatory to wear face coverings in shops and supermarkets. Rules on travel remain fluid: from 10 July, travellers from more than 50 ‘low-risk’ countries no longer had to self-isolate for 14 days.

Health and fitness context

On 20 March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the closure of gyms and leisure centres across the UK to fight the spread of COVID-19. The large majority (if not all) of gyms and leisure centres reacted quickly to the news, automatically freezing memberships to ensure members would not be paying unnecessarily.

The UK government’s stay-at-home guidance acknowledged the importance of physical activity for mental and emotional wellbeing. When further lockdown rules were implemented on 23 March and people could only leave the house for essential purposes, this included exercising once per day.

On 11 May, the public in England were allowed ‘unlimited exercise’ and could rest and sit outside or play sports with members of their own household.

From 13 May, sports courts including basketball and tennis courts, bowling greens and playing spaces such as golf courses were able to reopen. Other outdoor sports such as angling were also allowed to resume. All of these activities were to be undertaken alone, with members of the same household or with one other person from a different household.

On 23 June, the government announced the relaxation of the two-metre social distancing rule from 4 July, instead changing it to ‘one metre plus’, meaning two metres where possible but at a minimum, one metre.

As a result, most leisure facilities were able to reopen on 4 July including outdoor gyms and playgrounds. This included recreational sport in outdoor locations with the exception of close-contact team sports. However, ‘close proximity’ venues such as indoor gyms and swimming pools remained closed.

In Northern Ireland, gyms and outdoor playgrounds reopened from 10 July, competitive sport resumed on 17 July, and leisure centres and indoor sports courts reopened on 7 August.

Indoor pools and sports facilities reopened in England on 25 July. Pools and indoor gyms reopened in Wales on 24 July. Gyms, pools and indoor sports courts opened in Scotland on 31 August.

Economic and other assumptions

Mintel’s economic assumptions are based on the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR)’s central scenario included in its July 2020 Fiscal Sustainability Report. The scenario suggests that UK gross domestic product (GDP) could fall by 12.4% in 2020, recovering by 8.7% in 2021, and that unemployment will reach 11.9% by the end of 2020, falling to 8.8% by the end of 2021.

The current uncertainty means that there is wide variation on the range of forecasts however, and this is reflected in the OBR’s own scenarios. In its upside scenario, economic activity returns to pre-COVID-19 levels by Q1 2021. Its more negative scenario, by contrast, would mean that GDP doesn’t recover until Q3 2024.

We are working on the assumption that a vaccine will be available by mid-2021, but that there will be continued disruption to both domestic and global markets for some time after that.

As long as there is not a second wave of infections, social-distancing measures should be gradually relaxed over the course of 2020, but we don’t expect industries such as hospitality, travel and live entertainment to return to any kind of normality until a vaccine is introduced.

Products covered in this Report

For the purposes of this Report, Mintel has used the following definitions:

  • Health and fitness clubs examined in this Report are defined as being privately owned, ie operated by a company or individual on a commercial, for-profit basis.

  • Where reference to the public sector is made for the purpose of comparison, public health and fitness clubs are defined as those operated by, or on behalf of, a local authority, such as a gymnasium or other facilities found in public leisure centres or swimming-pool complexes.

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