January is traditionally the month of renewal, and never more so in 2021 as the nation tries to move on from the extremely challenging year we’ve just left behind.
With a sense of expectation for better times ahead, thousands of us will look to our health and fitness this month, and likely join a gym or sign up for personal training sessions. Driven by a variety of factors, including the traditional desire to have a better body shape for the summer’s beach holiday, or trying to emulate the stars of Love Island, the gym business hits top gear around this time of the year.
An estimated 500,000 Irish people are fitness club members in an industry worth well over €300m annually.
While the market in the Republic continues to grow, and in the process offers career openings for personal trainers, fitness instructors, nutritionists, physios and instructors across disciplines such as yoga, pilates, exercise classes and running, its current membership is equivalent to approximately 10% of the population - still considerably behind Sweden’s 21.6% share and just over 17% in the Netherlands.
While the industry across the EU has experienced a boom in recent years to reach €27bn annually, Ireland lags behind our Continental neighbours with less than 10% of the population having fitness memberships - half the European norm.
The market continues to expand with operators such as Studio Fitness, Energie, Anytime Fitness, FlyeFit and Raw only some of the firms opening new outlets. Catering mainly for the 18 to 40 demographic, the fitness sector is increasingly bolstered by the 55+ age group - often defined as ‘golden oldies’ who are embracing healthier lifestyles.
A report by Deloitte and not-for-profit group EuropeActive estimated that the health and fitness industry across the EU was worth €27.2bn in 2018, a value which was up only 1.2% from the previous year - but still ranking as the world’s largest fitness market, ahead of North America’s €26.6bn value.
The growth in popularity of gyms and fitness centres also found serious traction with a new generation seeking an alternative to the pub.
“The fact that people meet in a gym indicates a like-minded approach and interest in keeping fit and healthy, and it breaks down a lot of barriers with people who’re into the same thing you are,” said Pat Henry, trainer to visiting stars such as Bruce Springsteen, Helen Mirren, and Matt Dillon. Pat has witnessed at first-hand how setting common goals for fitness and weight loss can lead to building business and life partnerships beyond the cross-trainer.
“Company wellness weekends are becoming a huge sector now, and we bring corporate groups of up to 40 on incentive breaks and team-building weekends that incorporate a range of different activities. We have ongoing bootcamps which are hugely popular with companies in energising the workforce, keeping healthy and cutting down absenteeism,” he said.
As the host of RTÉ’s Operation Transformation, Kathryn Thomas is also the founder of Pure Results Bootcamp, a diet and exercise camp incorporating intense workouts, nutrition, and meditation at a number of location.
“When we set up Pure Results in 2015, I realised right off there was something powerful about bringing people together in this forum, many of whom were making the brave decision to come out of their comfort zone.
"We are all working so hard now, there is a growing appreciation for health and wellness amongst Irish people. People want to put their money into something that’s worthwhile, educational and healthy,” she said.
The camps create a range of bespoke programmes for companies combining nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, and mental fitness, designed to re-energise teams.
“The greatest testament of a solid corporate wellness programme is that it creates long-term change by shifting mindsets, addressing stress and renewing energy levels. There’s a respect that comes from meeting with other people who want to take care of themselves, to achieve more, to better themselves - that’s a very powerful thing,” said the broadcaster.
Wellness, mindfulness and sustainability are fast becoming bywords in the international tourist trade, as our holiday habits change for a different world.
According to a recent report from travel association ABTA, 40% of vacationers revealed that the sustainability credentials of their travel provider are an important factor when booking a holiday - up from 24% in 2014.
Responsible tourism has gone mainstream in recent years, particularly as a growing public consciousness highlights the impact of visitors on local communities and the environment. Wellness tourism is now worth an estimated €600bn globally, growing twice as fast as general tourism.
Physical fitness is an important draw for holidaymakers who want to focus on wellness, with two-thirds of people planning activities such as yoga, pilates and nature hikes.
In response, travel companies are increasingly catering to the demand for wellness holidays, offering new programmes which seek to alleviate stress by focusing on mindfulness and nutrition, allied with physical and mental wellbeing. By 2022 it is predicted that 1.2 billion wellness trips will be taken globally each year.