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Health Club Management

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Health Club Management

Health Club Management


Come one, come all

It’s a disruptive model, but are ‘exercise passport’ memberships the shake-up the industry needs to improve retention and market penetration, getting more people, more active, more often? Kath Hudson asks the experts…

By Kath Hudson | Published in Health Club Management 2015 issue 10
Gymadvisor’s Freepass package offers access to 840 clubs across Spain for €49.99 a month
Gymadvisor’s Freepass package offers access to 840 clubs across Spain for €49.99 a month
Millennials and Gen Y place value on flexibility and choice. A significant percentage of young studio-goers have memberships at more than one facility

ith the launch of initiatives like ClassPass and MoveGB, exercise passport schemes – whereby one membership gives you access to hundreds of classes, gyms and fitness facilities operated by numerous different operators – have gone up a gear.

Initially sceptical that buying in to flexible membership schemes might threaten their core business, increasingly operators seem to be coming round to the idea that this model makes sense commercially – and that’s primarily because it fits with what consumers want. Not only do such schemes suit frequent travellers and those who live and work in different places, but they also meet the needs of dabblers – people who want to take advantage of a variety of exercise options rather than always visiting the same gym and doing the same workout.

Home from home
It isn’t in itself a new concept: the IHRSA Passport Program – which allows gym users to enter other clubs participating in the scheme at a discount of at least 50 per cent, provided that club is a minimum of 50 miles from their home – is now in its 31st year and has more than 1,700 clubs taking part across 40 countries.

Meanwhile the London Fitness Network was established 10 years ago by nine London-based trusts, after a poll showed 70 per cent of members would like a London-wide card and would be willing to pay more for the privilege.

This has since evolved into Health & Fitness UK – a partnership between GLL, Jubilee Hall Trust, Redbridge Sports & Leisure and Vision Leisure – giving people access to 103 leisure centres from York to west Oxfordshire.

Phil Rumbelow, CEO of Jubilee Hall Trust, says people want a flexible product: “Consumers have shown they want choice. They often live and work, or study, in different places and they need a membership which caters for that. The fitness industry needs to be flexible, making it as easy as possible for more people to be more active, more often.”

Other operators have embraced this concept too: just last month, Canadian chain GoodLife Fitness and US chain 24 Hour Fitness announced a reciprocal arrangement to allow travelling members access to each other’s clubs.

Added flexibility
The aforementioned schemes are all essentially structured around the need for flexibility when travelling – either further afield for work, or simply between home and work. However, with the budget gym chains doing away with long-term contracts, and boutique clubs adopting a premium ‘pay as you play’ model, consumers are increasingly expecting even their ‘at home’ memberships to offer more flexibility than the traditional 12-month contract model.

Acknowledging this trend – as well as consumers’ growing demand for online reviews, service comparisons and the option to shop around online before committing to a purchase – payasUgym took flexibility to another level.

Launched in 2011, when co-founders Jamie Ward and Neil Harmsworth spotted a niche for an internet-based, pay as you go concept, pasyasUgym allows consumers to buy daily, weekly or monthly gym passes – although it positions itself as a lead-generation service for health clubs, whereby people can test the water before committing to full membership at a club. It now works with 2,500 sites and 400,000 customers.

Europe saw the launch of a similar scheme, Gymadvisor, in December 2013. The Spanish-based service now works with 1,100 sites across Spain, the UK, Italy, Bulgaria and the Netherlands, providing an online database of clubs where people can make comparisons and choose from a range of different membership options.

“People want to spend less money and get more services than ever for the same price, and technology has made this very easy,” says CEO Ricard Canela. “The fitness industry needs to make this task as easy as it can, providing people with all the information and transparency they need to make a final decision.”

However, although it’s similar to in that it sells daily and monthly passes – and in fact also personal training – in Spain Gymadvisor has also created bundles of passes which can be used at hundreds of gyms across its network, much in the same way that ClassPass works in the US.

Canela claims that this is a win-win for both gyms and consumers: “Gyms get more clients without spending their money on marketing, and users can access gyms in a flexible way.”

Also launched in 2013 by The Retention People founder Alister Rollins, MoveGB aims to remove the barriers to exercise and create a flexible global membership of people who stay active for life.

“MoveGB was born out of a desire to create a better model for the fitness industry, which could more closely align the behaviour of consumers with the commercial models of fitness operators,” says MD Justin Mendleton.

“We provide clubs with a constant stream of high value, long lifetime members and allow the consumer unlimited use of hundreds of providers in their city, and thousands beyond, which creates very long lifetime value.”

Generation Y
According to the recent IHRSA Consumer Report, 80 per cent of Generation Y don’t buy into the idea of membership at a single health or fitness facility.

“It’s no wonder that memberships which support flexibility have taken off given this generation’s priorities,” says Payal Kadakia, founder of ClassPass. “Millennials and Gen Y place value on flexibility and choice. A significant percentage of young studio-goers have memberships at more than one facility. For example, 64 per cent of yoga members, 68 per cent of cyclists, 78 per cent of bootcampers and 89 per cent of boxers have second memberships at other fitness studios.”

Harmsworth agrees it was inevitable this would happen at some point, because customers are increasingly demanding greater choice and convenience. “For millennials, especially those living in large urban areas, the idea of committing to one method of getting fit, or one location, just isn’t on their radar. 

“This group view themselves as being very dynamic and discerning. This is the generation of AirBnB, Uber, Laundrapp and Deliveroo – services that cater for the needs of the individual and let them buy where and when they want. 

“Flexible gym and fitness memberships are a natural, obvious development to engage with this audience.”

Other industries have already been through this revolution, and as the health and fitness industry matures it would seem this is a natural progression – so how should health clubs react? With many operators beginning to question the hard sell and draconian long-term membership contracts, Mendleton believes now is the time to start embracing new flexible ways of working.

“Operators need to ask themselves what they would want as consumers, and how they would like to be treated,” he says. “For too long, we as an industry have relied on bad profits – profiting from members not using our services. This is not sustainable, creates very high attrition and hinders growth. The true vision of the dot com boom is now materialising, with the consumer being 100 per cent in control.

“It’s important providers move with the times to create the most attractive proposition for the consumer, to harness both media and social attention on fitness. As an industry, we should be as powerful financially and politically as the pharmaceutical industry, but to do this we need to change to be more flexible.”

However, as Harmsworth points out, while Generation Y might like club-hopping, Generation X still prefers a stable membership; a range of options should therefore be available.

“Generation X remain keen users of more traditional models, such as fixed memberships or subscriptions,” Harmsworth explains. “This group is very stable and remains the biggest driver of income for the industry. It’s really important that the industry doesn’t switch en masse to serve one customer group at the expense of the other.

“The key is to offer the right product to the right customer at the right time, and sell it to them through a channel in which they like to buy.”


Founder of ClassPass, 
Payal Kadakia
Founder of ClassPass, Payal Kadakia

With the growing number of independent studios and gyms catering to specific interests, ClassPass was created in New York in 2013, to offer a model for those looking for diversity and to find great studios they might otherwise not have known about.

A monthly fitness membership programme priced at around US$99, it allows people to take classes at different studios and clubs – but users are only allowed to visit the same studio up to a maximum of three times a month (see also HCM July 15, p62).

The network is now operational in more than 30 cities in the US and Canada, and came to London this year, with more than 6,000 clubs and boutique studios currently on board globally.

ClassPass receives the money direct from users and makes a payment to the club for each class taken.

Gymadvisor Freepass

Gymadvisor founders Silvia and Ricard Canela brought the passport model to Spain
Gymadvisor founders Silvia and Ricard Canela brought the passport model to Spain

In addition to its daily and monthly passes, Gymadvisor offers three levels of package whereby users can visit clubs across its Spanish network.

€24.99 a month gets you five passes each month, to be used at any one of 390 clubs – although no more than three visits to the same gym are permitted. Meanwhile €39.99 gets you 10 passes.

Those willing to spend €49.99 a month get the Freepass package – 30 passes a month to be used at 840 clubs across Spain, but again with the same restriction of maximum three visits a month to the same club.


Justin Mendleton, MoveGB MD
Justin Mendleton, MoveGB MD

Launched in Bristol, UK, in January 2013, MoveGB now has 10,000 users each month and almost 1,000 partners across a number of UK cities, as well as New York in the US. New cities are being introduced every month.

Members pay a monthly subscription and the clubs are paid when their facilities are used. All facilities have to be made available as part of the scheme: if they cost operators more to offer, then the end user is charged more.

In addition, payment plans are always priced above partners’ membership prices, so as not to undercut; users accept paying a premium to benefit from the variety on offer. Different packages are available for different levels of access.

The main aim of the scheme is to get people active and keep them active by offering them choice and putting them in control of how they exercise.

Gymadvisor’s Freepass package offers access to 840 clubs across Spain for €49.99 a month
Gymadvisor’s Freepass package offers access to 840 clubs across Spain for €49.99 a month
Exercise passport schemes allow users to work out wherever best suits that day / Photo:
Exercise passport schemes allow users to work out wherever best suits that day / Photo:
Whether it’s military fitness or yoga and relaxation, flexible deals offer the variety exercisers want
Whether it’s military fitness or yoga and relaxation, flexible deals offer the variety exercisers want
Whether it’s military fitness or yoga and relaxation, flexible deals offer the variety exercisers want
Whether it’s military fitness or yoga and relaxation, flexible deals offer the variety exercisers want
Are ‘exercise passports’ the shake-up the fitness industry needs?
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