Expert Eye: The next decade, from fitness to wellness

Rey Bolivar, CEO of Anytime Fitness Asia, discusses 2020 and beyond in the growing regional fitness industry, and what it will take to win the hearts, minds – and bodies – of consumers

In 2020, Asia is poised to take over the GDP of the rest of the world combined, and will contribute 90 percent of the world’s 2.4 billion new middle class by the end of the decade. As priorities shift from subsistence to sustenance, so will budgets shift from day-to-day life to long-term lifestyles.

The region has a little over 2.5 percent in average gym penetration, with countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam at just or well below the 0.5 percent mark. This presents an enormous opportunity for the fitness industry to expand into markets where governments, businesses, and the local population are only just beginning to place fitness at the forefront of policy making, investment allocation, and personal spend.

While the fitness industry is in its infancy in Asia, it is growing at an exponentially faster pace than mature markets in the US and Australia, driven by the speed in which technology evolves and provides immediate access to information. While trends in decades prior were led by thought leaders and practitioners in fitness, the industry is now led by consumers – who are demanding increased personalisation and shifting away from the mass market distribution that propelled the industry’s initial growth.

In addition, consumers are veering away from the traditional and singular concept of fitness to a more holistic view of wellness. Aside from the physical, consumers are in search of brands, products, and services that satisfy their psychological, social, and environmental needs.

Data consolidation, service aggregation

With information about consumers and their spending habits more available than ever before, platforms and industries have been racing to become the preferred repository of data, and the fitness industry is no different. But increased options for consumers has also resulted in fragmented information about their real-world choices and preferences. Restrictions on data use and migration are also becoming the norm, with the California Consumer Privacy Act coming at the heels of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Google killing the cookie in two years.

For the fitness industry, information is separately siloed in equipment, trackers, apps, and visit logs. As consumers take more control over their health, they will also want more control and visibility over their data. Consolidating these various sources will be a shared or singular objective for players with the end goal of being the preferred service for consumers. This preference may be strongly shaped by companies who can offer their own services that span the breadth of wellness – from fitness centres to boutique clubs to nutrition to spas to beauty.

Wear it, log it, share it

Forecast to grow at 19.1 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the first half of the decade, smart wearables are expected to have increased usage alongside the growth of the fitness industry. Aside from movement and activity trackers, which are physically worn by end users, there has been an overabundance of apps that range from calorie counting to sleep monitoring.

The most successful physical and digital trackers will have a social component, building communities of active users who engage and encourage each other and ultimately promote platform loyalty. Aside from peer feedback, they will have experts in each field of wellness that are available on demand and either at a freemium or within a pay-to-play model.

Personalised goals, shared experiences

As the Asia fitness industry focuses on increasing its overall membership base, it is still catching up to the holy grail of the gym business – personal training.

Its value for any gym is unmatched in terms of increasing revenue, building member loyalty, as well as a host of other positive downstream implications for the business. But new modalities and technology, combined with the dearth of certified personal trainers in the region, have changed the landscape of, and the demand for, personal training in Asia.

Where individual training is preferred in many markets, family-centric cultures in the region have shown an increasing preference for group classes, which have shown benefits to gyms such as community building and extended network referrals especially for older age groups.

Meanwhile, younger consumers are beginning to explore workouts on demand, in keeping with their faster-paced lifestyles. Despite the individualised nature of always-on fitness regimes, users also crave the social aspects found in group training – which is where remote training comes in. There is a movement toward coaching, which enhances the consumer workout experience through empowerment and education instead of standard training, which typically only provides queuing and instruction.

Individualisation and inclusion

Beyond services, consumers are increasingly looking at what brands stand for and how they reflect their own individuality.

The industry, which is known for impossible standards of fitness and intimidating environments, will shift toward inclusivity to break stereotypes and reflect the realities of their member base, and to encourage first-time users to step inside a gym. This requires a move from fitness fanaticism to a more general advocacy for health.

The competition in the industry is not for the 2.5 percent who are already members. In Asia, it will be for the other 97.5 percent who have never contemplated including fitness as part of their routine, or who have been turned off by the traditional view of what’s it like to be in a gym.

Similar to the overall wellness industry, where inclusiveness has become more than a buzzword, fitness will transition from one size (the ideal size) fits all, to all sizes fits all.


About the Expert

Rey Bolivar is CEO of Anytime Fitness Asia, where he builds, restructures, and grows club operations to scale across the region. He has over 27 years of experience in the fitness and wellness industry, combining credentials in exercise physiology, exercise science, and sports management from Rutgers and Adelphi, with a breadth of experience operating, expanding and innovating in top fitness brands from New York to Beijing. Previously, he was Group COO of Will’s Group during the LVMH/L. Catterton acquisition, Head of Global Sales and Marketing for Pure Group, and Director of Town Sports International.