For the past decade, the fitness sector has been one of the fastest growing industries in Thailand. For the past month, fitness enthusiasts have been “working from home” and “working out at home.”
“I think we’ve just had our best month for the home equipment range,” said a staff member at Seara Sports, a major fitness equipment distributor.
While renting or buying gym equipment to workout at home has become a trend, some people in the fitness industry worry that the trend might continue after the COVID-19 outbreak ends and the emergency decree is lifted.
“I think some commercial gyms may have fewer people renewing their memberships as people adopted and adapted to a ‘gym-less’ lifestyle,” said John Coyle, President of the Thai Powerlifting Federation.
“People will need to reduce luxury expenses in their personal budgets due to the financial effects of the pandemic.”
Survival of the Fittest
While the COVID-19 outbreak has derailed the growth of this booming industry, many gym bosses remain quite bullish that members would return.
After all, it is quite impractical to have a squat rack permanently set up in your living room. Many gym-goers see fitness centers as a place to get away from the hectic work and home life
“There’s going to be a slight shift towards training at home,” said Jack Thomas, CEO of BASE Bangkok, a boutique fitness chain.
“But I believe that people will be very keen to get back to have a real life experience. To put it bluntly, a lot of experiences cannot be replicated at home.”
BASE Bangkok is adapting to the situation through what people in the industry are calling, “Fitness 2.0.” After closing its doors on March 18, two weeks later BASE launched a one-on-one online coaching program and online HIIT class through Zoom, dubbed BASE Anywhere.
“The uptake on BASE Anywhere has been quite high,” said Thomas.
“We continue to pay the staff as much as we can. We made sure every single member of the team is doing fine. We also give the staff the option to borrow money interest-free during this difficult time.”
A Race Against Time
Meanwhile, some major fitness centers have cut staff salaries by 30%-40%. Like in other sectors directly affected, many gym trainers have gone back to their home provinces. With no income or reduced income, keeping up the apartment rent in Bangkok is not an option.
Also affected by the outbreak is the upcoming Spartan Race in Chiang Mai. It was scheduled for June and has now been postponed.
Spartan Race is a series of obstacle races with varying difficulty levels. It usually gathers roughly 1,500 athletes per race in Thailand.
But even with the postponement, Sarochinee Chanvanichborikarn, Project Manager at Spartan Race Thailand, said, “We will definitely get a smaller number of participants this time and there’s nothing we can do.”
For the past decade, fitness has become very much a part of the Thai urban lifestyle. As incomes expand, so does the interest in staying fit.
In recent years, we have witnessed the arrivals of new “big chains” such as Jetts Fitness and Fitness24seven. We have seen a growing interest in niche sports such as powerlifting or triathlon. More people than ever have participated in competitions like the Spartan Race.
With the effect of COVID-19, according to industry insiders, some operators will not make it.
Many customers will trade down to budget gyms as they try to control their expenses coming out of this crisis. A higher level of personalization and the sense of community offered by boutique gyms will pay off, as long as their customers stay engaged with the brands and their coaches.
Mid-market operators that fail to differentiate their service would most likely suffer the most.