Kaunda Selisho
Lifestyle Journalist
6 minute read
25 Aug 2020
1:30 pm

South Africans keen to get back to gyms, bucking global trend

Kaunda Selisho

Fitness fanatics are queuing outside some local gyms waiting their turn due to the 50-people regulation, in contrast with up to 70% of international gym users cancelling their memberships.

A gym-goer in the Planet Fitness gym in Centurion. Picture: Jacques Nelles

If a recent survey by RunRepeat.com is anything to go by, gyms all over the world may experience an alarmingly large loss in customers in the coming months.

Out of the 10,824 gym members surveyed across 116 countries between 24 April 2 and 1 May, nearly half of all gym members globally indicated that they will not return to their gyms upon reopening.

Furthermore, 36.57% of those surveyed stated that they have already canceled or are considering canceling their memberships.

While their reasons for doing so were not initially made clear, this could be due to a number of reasons such as job losses, salary cuts and workout alternatives that some may have discovered while not being able to head to their favourite gym.

This is particularly worrisome for South African gyms who found themselves unable to operate for 146 days due to the restrictions on their operation as dictated by the lockdown regulations under the ongoing state of disaster.

Demand for space in gyms seemed to be high on Monday as many franchises found themselves having to calm down angry customers who could not get a hold of their various customer care mechanisms.

Virgin Active’s app and web-based booking mechanism crashed due to high demand on Sunday evening and this lasted well into Monday. Frustrated fitness fanatics who either wanted to secure their spot in the gym or cancel their memberships found themselves unable to reach the franchise.

In a statement posted to social media, Virgin Active said; “We are open! Unfortunately we’re experiencing technical issues with our member systems. You can arrive at the club at any time & our team will assist with screening & access. There may be a waiting period due to capacity restrictions.”

In a conversation with The Citizen, a Virgin Active spokesperson said: “Our initial research indicated that between 75% and 85% of members would come back. We re-opened yesterday and have seen eagerness by our members to get back to our fully equipped clubs, just as we have noted that some members’ preference is to continue using our online workouts for now.”

According to the spokesperson, this trend mirrors what the franchise has seen in their other markets around the world. As such, they are anticipating the numbers to gradually increase.

“An online pre-screening and booking feature has been developed on the Virgin Active app that will allow for fast and easy access, with no congestion on arrival. The real-time capacity monitoring will also give members a sense of the demand at the time they are intending to visit, and will help us manage the capacity restrictions while they are in place,” added the spokesperson before confirming that this system is not yet live.

The spokesperson added that operations are significantly constrained by the government restriction of 50 people in a club at a time despite some clubs being as big as 5,000 square meters.

“Which means that we can only have one member per 100 square meters. Gyms range in size from 50 square meters to 5,000 square meters and a single 50 person limit for all gyms is not appropriate.”

In order to accommodate those who are not yet comfortable to return, Virgin Active has extended a freeze on their memberships into September and October at no additional cost.

Planet Fitness customers who were looking to either use their nearest gym or freeze their memberships as part of a service offered by the franchise during this period, were also left frustrated as they could not easily do so in the days leading up to the reopening of gyms.

Speaking to The Citizen, Planet Fitness confirmed that there has been an overwhelming interest to get back into the swing of things among their customers, and they have even seen growth in the amount of people interested in joining Planet Fitness for the first time.

“It has been overwhelmingly positive, timing didn’t allow us to analyse the data for you by this afternoon – but Planet Fitness’ inland gyms opened on Wednesday last week, followed by coastal gyms on Thursday last week. All 46 gyms are operational. We have received compliments from excited members who are delighted to be able to get back into gym.”

Based on a recent online survey conducted with Planet Fitness members and the general public, 62% of those surveyed said they were willing to return to gym while 29% said they would come back after a month.

Only 9% said that they wanted to continue working out at home.

According to the franchise, people are queuing outside some of the gyms waiting their turn due to the 50-people regulation.

“With the bigger gyms having 4 000 to 5 000 square metres of space available with high volume ceilings and sophisticated ventilation and aircon – it is hoped that with good governance and compliance, this will be eased to allow more members back into the gym at safe levels of social distancing and health and safety protocols.”

The franchise was unable to say how many of their members have opted out of their contracts for the foreseeable future, but they indicated that those who still wish to freeze their contracts are still able to do so.

“As from September debit orders will continue as normal on the members’ selected debit order date. The balance of August will be free,” added Planet Fitness before thanking their members for their loyalty and support during lockdown.

Fitness fanatic Palesa Buyeye is one of the patrons who made her way to the gym on Monday.

While she found alternatives to keep herself fit during the lockdown, Buyeye says that nothing quite compares to the gym experience. And with rising temperatures in Gauteng, taking a jog is not an option for her this week.

Explaining her experience on her first day back, Buyeye noted that patrons at her chosen gym are not allowed to bring in their towels or bags as the locker facilities are currently not available and neither are the shower facilities.

“So right now, you can only go in with a water bottle and if you are sweating, there are paper towels situated at every station, along with sanitiser.”

“They also have a drop zone for you to leave the moveable equipment that you were using so that it can be cleaned before the next person uses it.”

Due to the fact that her gym is not a major franchise, Buyeye said that the 50 people limit did not seem to be much of an issue at her gym, which rarely experiences large numbers of patrons.

She has indicated that she will continue making use of her gym because she doesn’t head out much and has faith in how they are following government regulations in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

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