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Serbian Association for Recreation and Fitness Drives Growth in a Young Market

The Serbian fitness industry is a young market—and with that youthfulness comes opportunities for growth.

When the Serbian Association for Recreation and Fitness (SARF) was created 10 years ago, there were just six founding clubs. Today, you wouldn’t know the the association had such humble beginnings. SARF now boasts 400 member clubs in 40 cities throughout Serbia, and it collaborates with leading global fitness equipment manufacturers.

We spoke with SARF Secretary General Dragan Tomasevic to learn more about this burgeoning market. Here’s what he said.

What is the state of the Serbian fitness industry today?  

There is a high potential for developing the fitness industry because of the increasing number of clubs. Linked to this, we see more and more fitness events, education seminars, workshops taking place as well as companies from abroad investing in this sector.

A good example of this is our fitness and health expo (BELFIS), which combined this year for the first time education sessions as well as a trade show. The expo was the biggest fitness event in the region, with a host of great equipment manufacturers, food suppliers and accessories/clothes distributors.

What challenges and opportunities are clubs seeing?

One of the biggest challenges for clubs is the difficulty to tie in customers to annual membership fees, and hence achieving high retention rates. Our club members are also concerned about the high prices of leases, especially in Belgrade.

Despite these challenges, gym-goers want to join clubs for their ability to create strong communities. This year’s Expo was a strong testament of the growing interest from foreign fitness manufacturers to explore the market potential of the Serbian fitness market.

What do you think would surprise people who aren't familiar with the fitness landscape in Serbia?

Since Serbia in general has suffered wars and numerous economic crises, visitors tend to be surprised by the modern and lively life of Belgrade. People that have visited Belgrade and Serbia come back and like to say that Belgrade never sleeps.   

From a fitness perspective, we have been grateful for the support the Ministry of Youth and Sports, they realize education is key and have helped provide support in particular with respect to the education of professional instructors. 

Where do you see the Serbian fitness industry in 5 or 10 years down the line?

Five or ten years from now, we see the Serbian fitness industry as being the leading fitness industry in the Balkan region. Events such as the BEFLIS exhibition give us continued international exposure, which should pave the way for additional investment domestically and internationally. 

SARF already has annual sponsorship contract with big sports companies such as Nike, as well as international brands recognizing the interest in investing in this field. This investment will indirectly get more people involved in fitness, create higher opportunities for clubs, and increase customer loyalty.

Can you tell us a little about why you decided to join IHRSA? 

As regular visitors of the IHRSA European congress for years, and bearing in mind the importance of cooperation with one of the biggest fitness association in the world, SARF has long been looking to become an IHRSA member. 

Membership to IHRSA will enable to have continued access to the most up to date research and education in the field of fitness. Likewise, the IHRSA events give us the opportunity to meet other federation partners, hear of their challenges, and share best practices. Last but not least, we hope long term that our cooperation will help to put Serbia on the fitness map of the world, and one day maybe organize play host to the IHRSA European Congress.