Gyms on the brink, despite having robust check-in data available to track visitation.

Victoria’s $500 million fitness and exercise industry that comprises more than 1,500 gyms, health clubs, and Yoga and Pilates studios and employs more than 40,000 Victorians has been crippled by the fourth lockdown with losses already in excess of $10 million. 

Fitness Australia, the sector’s peak association, said the current stage three seven-day lockdown was already going to cost millions of dollars but warned that any extension of the lockdown would likely see many businesses forced to shut permanently. 

CEO Barrie Elvish said current gym check-in data from a sample of approximately 500 member gyms showed more than 6.4 million people had visited a gym in the past six months using electronic swipe access – a system that was able to provide real time check-in data for contact tracking. 

Mr Elvish said: 

“Like many industries right now in Victoria, we are hurting badly and, with the prospect of even longer shutdowns looking more likely by the day, we have thousands of small business owners and people who may not be able to survive.” 

“In Victoria there are almost 1 million gym users who go to the gym weekly to keep healthy and exercise in a safe environment with COVID-Safe practices in place. Last month there were more than 6.4 million visits to a gym – what other industry can provide real-time accurate date like that? None. 

“Yet, in some media reports over the past week gyms and exercise facilities are still being singled out as places of “high-risk”, which is not based on fact or current data.  

 “As an industry, we are in the business of helping people look after their health, remain active and support overall wellbeing including vital mental health. It is unacceptable for us to again be singled out when there is not data to support the fallacious high-risk argument.” 

Local business impact 

With the majority of gyms and exercise centres individually owned and operated, the small business impact has been devastating. 

For business owner Paul Nemer, who operates Genesis Health, Fitness and Swim School in Melton, Victoria, the shutdowns have drained his life savings and left him wondering what his young children’s future was going to be like.  This week’s seven-day shutdown will cost him $55,000.

Mr Nemer said:

“Last year’s closures took a devasting toll on my family, my staff and my business. We went from $60,000 a week in revenue to less than $600 overnight, with no end in sight. It was gut-wrenching. To be faced with this prospect of that happening all over again is very hard to comprehend.” 

Mr Nemer said while there had been positive signs in recent months signs that things were rebounding faster than expected this week’s lockdown is a huge blow to his business’s recovery.

Mr Nemer said:

“Prior to this week’s lockdown we’d had more than half of our members return, which is higher than what I expected it to be. This fourth lockdown will certainly see people cancel or continue to suspend their membership.”

“That makes it very hard to make up for the 12 months of lost time. I’m paying an additional $9,000 of rent a month to repay over $225,000 in deferred rent, and that’s very hard to do when my business isn’t trading right now. 

“I’d estimated it would take my business approximately two to three years to get back to the same financial position as pre-COVID but these further lockdowns and uncertainly will see that push out even further.”