Covid-19 has put gyms in the headlines this week, but industry leaders do not expect this will stop people from attending fitness venues or classes.
Sentiment among the industry is that business has returned to near-normal levels for most exercise facilities, albeit down slightly on levels of trade and visitation experienced under the first move to level 2.
Gym visitation, revenue and new membership sales were tracking above 85 per cent in the first-half of August and the industry had largely recovered before Auckland moved back into alert level 3 and the rest of the country in level 2 in mid-August.
Now, under alert level 2.5 and 2, these key metrics were down an average 10 per cent.
While the dip in activity does not seem like much, Exercise New Zealand says 10 per cent is often what the profit margins are for these typically high-fixed-cost establishments. There are about 800 gyms and exercise facilities located throughout the country.
"When you're 15 per cent down you're actually losing money," said Richard Beddie, chief executive of the fitness industry association Exercise NZ.
Three-quarters of a million New Zealanders visit a gym on a regular basis - approximately one in every five adults. Consumers throughout the country stopped buying gym memberships when Auckland was put into alert level 3.
Membership cancellations jumped under the first lockdown, but this had not occurred the second time around - an encouraging sign, Beddie said.
While the latest metrics were down an average of 10 per cent, some businesses were 50 per cent down while others were above and beyond typical levels.
"Lockdown hit Auckland really hard, but we noticed it hit the whole country, particularly around membership sales," Beddie said.
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A lot of the impact was based around how people felt about Covid-19 and the associated risks, he said, adding that those outside of Auckland had a blase view of the risks.
This week, Les Mills hit the headlines when a gym goer who attended three classes on September 10 tested positive for Covid. All 89 people in the gym at the time have been deemed close contacts and are now required to self-isolate.
Beddie said Exercise NZ members were feeling thankful they had implemented their own more stringent social distancing recommendations within establishments, requiring gym goers to maintain a 2m distance instead of 1m at the advice of the Ministry of Health.
The Les Mills North Shore positive case would be a "good test" of the industry's protocols, he said: "If what we believe is correct, which is that our protocol is safe, there should be no transmission in the gym."
As part of the self-imposed stricter safety measures, gyms were also turning people away and many had also voluntarily turned off water coolers under level 2 on its own accord.
The industry had received no fresh advice following the Les Mills case.
City centre gyms were generally finding alert level 2 tougher than suburban locations due to the current work from home environment, Beddie said.
Exercise NZ said it knew about four gyms that had closed since March 27 due to Covid-19, but the organisation expected this to increase significantly if the country was to face further lockdowns.
He described the state of the industry as: "The vast majority of clubs are surviving despite all of the challenges. However, [the industry] is fragile."
Dione Forbes-Ryrie, managing director of Les Mills, which operates 12 clubs nationwide, said the majority of its members had returned to clubs and the business was now experiencing attendance rise towards pre-Covid levels.
While the financial impact of having clubs closed twice and memberships put on hold was great, Forbes-Ryrie said its suburban clubs had recovered quicker, which it put down to members working from home or flexi-working.
"Coming out of the second lockdown we've noticed that more members have returned in a quicker period than the first time. That's even though we still have the government restrictions in place," Forbes-Ryrie told the Herald.
"Because not everyone has the same work patterns as pre-March, we're seeing attendances being more spread out across the day. There are still the traditional morning and evening peaks but we've also adjusted our timetables to meet demand."
Les Mills, like a number of gyms, has turned off fans and water fountains and increased its cleaning regimes, including regular anti-viral fogging, to minimise any risk.
Forbes-Ryrie said the gym was following Exercise NZ's guidelines, developed with Sport New Zealand and WorkSafe, maintaining 2m physical distancing.
Newmarket-based boxing and fitness institute Studio Box, founded 18 months ago by former Black Stick Dwayne Rowsell, is implementing similar measures.
Roswell said Covid-19 had made running the young business a challenge and had been much harder to navigate a second time around.
The business, which has about 600 people attend its classes each week, regained about 80 per cent of its members after the lockdown, which Roswell put down to hosting Instagram Live classes and engaging with its customers through lockdown.
"I know other SMEs in New Zealand are not in the same position, but we've come out of both lockdowns recording our biggest attendance levels ever."
Studio Box was in a good financial position despite the prolonged period of no trading but would struggle to make up lost revenue through lockdowns, he said, adding that the business had been able to negotiate rent relief with its landlord.
Roswell said lockdown had shown many people that they did not need to attend a gym or classes which would no doubt be hurting a lot of establishments.
Rebound in demand
Sam Canavan, regional director of Asia-Pacific for global fitness subscription company ClassPass, said he was "more bullish and enthused" about health and fitness in New Zealand than in almost any other country globally.
The company is preparing to launch in Wellington later this year.
Covid-19 had "acted as an accelerant rather than a change agent, and the use of digital platforms for fitness had been supercharged", Canavan said.
"In Auckland, we have had 90 per cent of our 110 fitness and wellness partners already back and re-listed on ClassPass and demand rebound is some of the strongest we've seen anywhere in the world.
"Globally, New Zealand is in our top five markets in terms of percentage of bookings right now compared to a pre-Covid benchmark - alongside the likes of Netherlands, Malaysia, Brisbane and Thailand."
Auckland demand had already bounced back to around half of what it experienced pre-Covid and was growing week-on-week, he said.
Mandatory mask use in the gym
Exercise NZ said there was a lot of pressure on gym and fitness providers' shoulders as they did not want to be the centre of a Covid-19 cluster similarly to how churches had experienced in recent weeks.
The industry, he said, was planning for a worst-case scenario where face masks would become compulsory in gyms like they had in Saudi Arabia, and was looking at ways it could better track who was attending specific fitness classes through additional QR codes.
"At the moment we are not advocating for masks in gyms but we're preparing for the possibility of it."
Beddie said the industry anticipated that mandatory mask use in public would become a tool the Government used in case of more case outbreaks outside existing clusters.
There are currently no restrictions of attending multiple gyms within single membership, although staff that work at multiple clubs have been asked to minimise visits across different sites.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said it was satisfied that under current alert levels and with physical distancing, and a limit to the number of people in an establishment at once, that gyms were safe to use.
"We continue to encourage people to keep 1m physical distance in 'controlled environments' where contact tracing and other public health measures are possible. This includes places like gyms.
"People may also consider using face coverings. These do not replace physical distancing, however, people may choose to wear them in an indoor setting where physical distancing isn't possible. Under these alert levels the number of people in the gym will still be limited," the spokesperson said.
"At alert level 2 and 2.5, community transmission is considered contained, but there is still the small possibility of undetected transmission."