It’s that time of year again when we take a look at what might be big in the UK leisure industry for the year ahead. What do you think will be big in during 2019 and beyond?
There are few major sporting events in 2019. It will be at least another year until the summer Olympics in Tokyo, and a whole four years before we can recreate this summer’s football fever thanks to the World Cup (although watch out for the UEFA Nations League in the summer). That’s not to say that the leisure industry will suffer too much. There’s always demand for good leisure experiences, as our client bookings have shown throughout all of 2018.
But what do we think will be the big leisure trends in 2019?
Boutique and low-cost operators thriving
Boutiques and low-cost operators continue to dominate health & fitness sector growth. Many would have been forgiven for predicting the end of the low-cost boom but there doesn’t seem to be any let up in the expansion of these budget chains although several leading operators have opted for acquisition rather than new build lately. It would seem that the public just can’t get enough of the no-frills approach.
And whilst budget operators thrive, is the boutique market being driven partially by their success? If the low-cost model is appealing to the majority of gym-goers, then there has to be a place for the more discerning enthusiast. Those that shun the mass-market environment and gravitate towards a HIIT type experience facility have endless choice of specialist gyms, each with their own strongly branded identity. And the big plus for the boutiques is the floor space they can operate within, many requiring just a couple of thousand square feet. And perhaps, that in itself is the real recipe for success. Whilst the larger gyms have been battling it out for industrial space for 5000 members, these smaller clubs have been sneakily picking off small retail units as high street shops continue to struggle.
Whilst many industry insiders will say that these boutiques go after a very different market from the mainstream and don’t compete for members, it speaks volumes that so many operators are now revamping their group exercise offerings, particularly in the premium sector to lure the enthusiasts back to a full service model.
Our predictions for 2019 are that boutique market will continue to grow, fuelled by property availability and relatively cheap, owner/operator franchise models being attractive to investors. We expect to see wilder, bolder and more tech driven businesses that will really disrupt the market.
Wearable and fitness tech
Something that we have said is coming for a long time is the development of wearable fitness tech. So far, wearable tech has been fairly simple – such as an activity tracker like Fitbit – or too complex to be in anything more than in beta testing. But developments over the last couple of years especially has meant that a bigger rollout of more sophisticated wearable teach will be available to the mass market very soon, and if not in 2019, not long after.
Simple wearable tech is still popular though, and the trend will be to make that tech even more simple, less intrusive, and more a part of our bodies. For example, Motiv is releasing its fitness ring in the UK. This is smaller and easier to wear than the sometimes clumsy, clunky watches and heart rate monitors. You could almost forget you are wearing it. Could the next step be under-skin microchips?
Safety tech is also making strides. We have talked before about drones being used to facilitate water rescues. While drones have not completely replaced lifeguards to a large extent, it will almost be certain, particularly for beach lifeguards to not only have first aid and rescue skills but also be adept at using drone technology. It’s a good job us leisure professionals are not afraid to acquire new skills!
Have a look at this drone in action https://uk.reuters.com/video/2018/11/13/beach-drone-drops-life-jackets-to-strugg?videoId=482641268
But could the big trend in 2019 be thanks to open data? With better sharing of data between health and fitness providers, more opportunities are opened up for people to meet their fitness goals using a variety of leisure providers. Whether this is through the provision of an app which helps customers find fitness classes to suit them, or through the sharing of very specific health data to tailor fitness programmes, open data is a step in the right direction.
How about using the ultimate personal data – your DNA – to tailor your health plan to your exacting physical needs? Sounds creepy, but it’s happening!
Fitness moves to the high street
Retail has clearly suffered from the threat of the collapse of major brands and closures of stores and where retail is moving out, leisure is moving in. It’s been the case for some time in many towns and cities that where the high street has been in decline for retailers, the coffee shops and restaurants have moved in. Blamed on more people shopping online, larger retail brands are having to reinvent themselves and embrace experiential shopping and more place-based activities.
More retailers, particularly larger department stores with huge floor spaces to make use of, are partnering with fitness providers and opening their space up for consumers who want more from a place than simply to buy more stuff. This autumn saw Debenhams opening an in-store gym in their Sutton branch, and 2019 will see the same in their Manchester and Bristol stores.
Be prepared to see more high street names becoming more diverse over the next few years.
In fact, mixed-use facilities are going to be a more common sight away from the traditional high street too. Wherever there is good accessibility, expect to see new spaces and places which house complementary activities, such as this new leisure centre in Exeter city centre. And yes, it’s likely that any new buildings will be put up with consideration for energy efficiency. After all, energy isn’t expected to get any cheaper!
More inclusive leisure activities
In the past, health campaigns have concentrated on under-represented groups such as women. Do you remember the This Girl Can campaign? Now, the focus is turning to other groups such as disabled people and to different age groups such as the over 55s.
More funding is going to be given to sports which encourage inclusivity. If your fitness business has not really embraced disabled leisure activities yet 2019 could be a good time to start!
Younger consumers are not being left out though and there is a real drive for getting people of all ages to form an exercise habit. More and more facilities are catering to a family audience, such as Cloud Twelve.
Engaging with children earlier is a key tool in the fight against obesity not only in childhood but in adulthood too. Expect more campaigns and health and fitness education in schools across the UK.
More diversity in leisure provision
Interestingly, the ambition for creating industry-changing offerings has been reflected in the entertainments sector where the emphasis on an exciting visitor experience is being prioritised over large nightclub venues. This year we’ve seen darts, golf, table tennis and video gaming appearing regularly in our news feeds and we expect that to continue into 2019. How wacky, can they get? Only time will tell.
Health food trends
And what about health foods? Well, there is certainly increased awareness of the harm that can be done by some foods and changing legislation, such as the ‘sugar tax’ has made us think more about making more sensible choices. 2019 will be no exception. Expect more of the same.
….And finally, what about Brexit?
Spa and Beauty has had a tumultuous year. Some extravagant new spas have been announced but the industry has been hit heavily by the lack of qualified staff available. As per our prediction last year, the looming shadow of Brexit seems to be deterring European workers from making the trip to the UK. As a knock-on effect, salaries are continuing to rise as businesses compete for staff.
If you want help navigating the waters of the leisure industry in 2019, get in touch!