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Plenty to Gain by Attending European Congress

“The European Congress itself, the networking opportunities, and the club tours were invaluable, and will, without a doubt, have a significant impact on shaping the future of Fitness First U.K.”

Martin Seibold, Managing Director, Fitness First UK

The comments about IHRSA’s Annual European Congress - whether it is like Siebold’s, they relate to last year’s meeting in madrid or next month’s gathering in Amsterdam - attest to the fact that this event, now in its 14th year, is having a true impact not only on individual club companies, but also on the European and global fitness industries, as well.

This year, the congress is expected to attract more than 500 attendees from over 30 countries, including individuals from as far away as the U.S., Canada, South Africa, and Australia. 

“Cross-border friendships, business relationships, product and service innovations that have found their way into European facilities—these are examples of the impact the congress is having,” notes Hans Muench, IHRSA’s director of Europe.

“The congress is more important than ever,” observes Theo Hendriks, the CEO of Oneness Holding/Sports and Leisure Group, in The Netherlands. “Given the economic situation and changing market conditions, such as the proliferation of budget clubs, it’s crucial that we be able to share our concerns, thoughts, and ideas with our colleagues.”

The 14th Annual European Congress will take place October 16–19, and will involve keynote addresses, con- current sessions, consecutive supplier seminars, and club tours. The keynote and concurrent sessions will be translated simultaneously in Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish, and Russian. For the first time, all congress activities will take place in a single venue, the Beurs van Berlage, a beautiful 17th-century building believed to be the world’s first stock exchange.

Prime time

The lineup of speakers and subjects is, perhaps, the most intriguing and impressive in the event’s history. The keynote speakers include Annemarie van Gaal, an author and serial entrepreneur who’s developed successful companies in Europe and Russia, who will discuss “Doing Unconventional Business.” And Jonas Kjellberg, the co-creator of Skype and a university lecturer, will address the topic of “Entrepreneurship and Creating a Winning Sales Culture” (sponsored by Technogym).



2001: Brussels, Belgium
2002: Madrid, Spain 
2003: London, England 
2004: Berlin, Germany 
2005: Rome, Italy
2006: The Hague, The Netherlands 
2007: Paris, France
2008: Lisbon, Portugal 
2009: Dublin, Ireland 
2010: Barcelona, Spain 
2011: Milan, Italy
2012: Vienna, Austria
2013: Madrid, Spain
2014: Amsterdam, The Netherlands


Their presentations promise to be both productive and provocative.

“I believe in the concept of clubs,” van Gaal told CBI. “In this era, where social media facilitates streams of communication that are mainly one-way, people need to feel really connected with others who share the same beliefs, goals, and dreams. Health clubs can serve that purpose.”

And, reflecting on the differences between capitalism in Europe and the U.S., Kjellberg observed, “In Europe, we’re more focused on making money. In the U.S., it’s more about customer acquisition and company growth.”

“I was honored that IHRSA took my suggestion to invite van Gaal,” says Hendriks. “She’s one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Holland, and will really connect with attendees, especially those in the women’s market.”

“I’m looking forward to hearing what Kjellberg has to say,” explains Seibold, who will be among the many congress regulars in attendance in Amsterdam.

The speakers and subjects featured at the concurrent sessions are equally cutting-edge and compelling. Among the highlights are:

  • Jay Ablondi, IHRSA’s executive vice president of global products, moderating the “CEO Panel Discussion: The Future of the Industry”; panelists include Irina Kutina, CEO, the Russian Fitness Group
  • Christian Pierar, president, De Fitness Organisatie, on “The Fitness Industry in the Digital Age: Implementing Innovations and Technologies in Your Club”
  • Christophe Andanson, president, FHRSA, on “The Future of Fitness: A Review of the Latest Consumer Trends and Insights and How You Can Benefit/Profit”
  • Rasmus Ingerslev, CEO, Fresh Fitness and Wexer Vir- tual, on “Virtual Classes: The End of Empty Studio Space”
  • Ray Algar, the managing director of Oxygen Consulting, on “How Consumers View Today’s Health Club Market: Specialized Providers vs. Legacy Clubs”
  • Rene Moos, the CEO of Health City/Basic Fit, on “Premium and Budget Clubs Operating Successfully Together in a Difficult Market”; observes Muench, “Moos’s session will definitely be one of the highlights of the congress”
  • Brent Darden, the principal of Brent Darden Consulting and ex-officio of IHRSA’s board of directors, on “Leading with Purpose and Passion”

Added attractions

This year’s congress has more than 30 sponsors and partners—“For the fourth straight year, we’ve sold out the sponsor showcase,” Muench reports - which will allow attendees to learn all about the newest and most exciting products and services being offered by the industry’s leading suppliers.

Zeeburgerdijk Windmill In addition to club tours, congress participants also will be able to enjoy many of Amsterdam’s world-class attractions. “I intend to explore the city, visit the Anne Frank House and Van Gogh Museum, and maybe take a boat ride down a section of the city’s 65 miles of ancient cancels,” says Alison O’Kane Giannaras, IHRSA’s associate vice president of International Development.

Last month, in CBI, Robert Brewster, the president of The Alaska Club in Anchorage, pointed out that “Exchanging new and innovative concepts with club operators who live in other countries accelerates business growth, and also revitalizes people, giving them a greater sense of what’s going on beyond the world of their own day-in and day-out operations.”

Such “cross-pollination” is, of course, the reason that the annual IHRSA European Congress exists.

“The European Congress educates us about the issues and trends that affect our business and the industry as a whole,” concludes Seibold. “I’m looking forward to networking with industry colleagues; participating in the club tours, which are always interesting and educational; and listening to the keynote speakers, who are generally thought-provoking, permitting one to take away small things to apply to one’s business.” 

Read more on what to do in Amsterdam.

Craig R. Waters can be reached at


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