The World Health Organization’s Fiona Bull and CW Group's Walter MacDonald share their global perspectives on the fitness industry during the coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus Conversations: Global Perspectives on Health Clubs & Physical Activity [WEBINAR]

Learn from two speakers who each bring an international perspective you can apply to your health club’s recovery strategy.

  • April 10, 2020

This webinar features two speakers who will each bring an international perspective you can apply to your health club’s recovery strategy.

First, the World Health Organization’s Fiona Bull addresses the virus’ global impact on physical activity and explain how health clubs can play a crucial role in helping to keep the world moving.

Next, Walter MacDonald, fitness operation director at CW Group, dives into tactical advice gained while operating clubs in Shenzhen, China.

Here are some time-marks to help you locate the information you need:

  • 0:30 - WHO Video
  • 1:33 - Dr. Fiona Bull Introduction
  • 4:34 - Benefits of Physical Activity
  • 7:11 - 4 Action Areas to Increase Physical Activity
  • 16:36 - Dr. Fiona Bull Q&A
  • 23:00 - Walter MacDonald Introduction
  • 24:53 - CW Group's 4 Stages During COVID-19
  • 29:50 - 6 Things to Communicate to Members
  • 42:04 - Cleaning Practices

The below Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.

16:42 - Q&A with Fiona Bull

Q: What are the WHO’s plans to help promote the importance of exercise while we're in isolation?

FIONA: I mentioned briefly that we wanted to get some Q&A information that really would help governments who ask WHO for their guidance, and then governments can translate this into local languages and culture. The clear messages are on the Q&A, but again, I direct you to the message of being active and then ways to be active and directing to the sort of opportunities to be active, like the online and live streaming classes and materials that many of your members would be developing and from other sources as well.

We're making sure the message of the physical activity is out there. We're also doing some challenges and Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus] has identified five areas, one of which is physical activity and inviting through some of the leading change-makers of our world and through leading footballers, you may have seen a partnership with FIFA who are calling us to be active every day.

We're looking for ways that we can amplify and get that connection to people who are finding it very difficult at the moment, but we get much benefit from physical activity.

So we're doing a range of things directly from headquarters and our regional offices in each of the six regions are complementing that, and also responding to requests from countries. This webinar is an important opportunity to discuss. And we're likely to hold webinars from WHO on key topics. And of course, WHO is holding media briefings to communicate about the challenge, and about COVID every day. Thank you.

Q: Yes, and as I noticed you mentioned, the virtual offerings and that a lot of clubs have moved their operations online. They're offering classes and training and other services virtually. As we were speaking through GAPPA, you touched on making sure we reach those vulnerable parts of vulnerable populations who are less likely to be physically active people with chronic disease, disability, women, older people, children.

Can you speak about some things that clubs can do to see that their offerings are accessible to those people? Are there any WHO resources that would help them through that process?

FIONA: There's no WHO resources as we're not a provider of direct resources in that sense. But of course, the industry has got huge capacity and knowledge and experience in this area.

I think your question really picks up on an important point. Those who are already active are most likely to know where to go and how to find things that meet their needs, or be it constrained to being in the home or restricted. Our concern is those who perhaps are not so active, they're not regularly going to the clubs. They may not know that your resources are available. So you're going to have to reach out to communicate to new constituents.

In your specific questioning, there is a concern about whether the offering is at the right level, the right intensity, the right speed for people who are older or less active. Now I know it's out there and my background is as an exercise professional as a teacher and trainer myself, we all know how to do those adaptive programs, and to invite those who are less active, a bit cautious, perhaps overweight, a bit concerned about injury. I know the industry can respond. There's innovation, creativity, and I'd invite you to make sure you really promote those resources, so those who are most in need can find them. I invite you to think about how you can do that. It's a bit of a challenge, but I hope you can find ways to do that to reach those people who really need those resources. Thank you.

Q: Thank you. Yes. And I have one more question for you, from Caitlin in Wisconsin. What does the club of the future look like and what should we be considering for when clubs can reopen?

FIONA: Wow, that's a big question and I thank you for it. I'll have to go now, but I'd like to hear from Walter, too, and be informed by his presentation. You're challenging me, because I think even before COVID, I would have loved this conversation with you.

The clubs of the future might look different in how people pay for being a member, making it more options and easier to come in [to the club], and vary what you do to reach more users and retain members at higher volumes. I think there was a real opportunity and a call from GAPPA for the industry to take stock, because collectively, the world was not active enough. That was my first few slides of the data. Chronic disease is the leading cause of death and will remain so because of our lifestyles and we're not active enough. There will be changes, but I hope that there's some changes that will be positive out of this. I think clubs can move beyond the four walls and be very much engaged in communities in different ways, and very much more connected with the local and national agenda and promoting physical activity, a real partner in the agenda.

I'm looking forward to discussing those changes that would, and should, have occurred anyway and [how] they're going to be prompted within the context of COVID for a rethink. [Also], to learn now from Walter about how that is already in process, from the contexts of China and elsewhere. Thank you.

57:51 - Q&A with Walter MacDonald

Q: Do your trainers and training clients count toward the reservation system and total headcount? Do your clients and trainers have to book in the booking system that the general member population does?

MACDONALD: If I heard you correctly, yes. For our normal usage, people have to book ahead. Because we're limited by the amount of people in the club, we use our cycles to PT exactly the same. Most of our PT before this is actually booked online anyway, people just booked ahead of time.

Q: You mentioned your members have to work out in masks, and then they have to change their masks frequently. Is the club providing the masks, or the members themselves?

MACDONALD: Yes, we do. As I say, it depends on policies that the club's countries have. But here, there's plenty for masks. It's one of the things that we wanted to do for our members in particular. As I say, I know the experience when you work out is very difficult working with a mask, but it's essential. There’s no other way. It does get sweaty and they say it's extremely uncomfortable, so we do offer a change of the masks … as many as they want as a service.

Q: How has your member retention been impacted? Did you lose many members and how are you working to regain them?

MACDONALD: It's a bit hard to quantify right now, and because our members are still coming back, so any data we have doesn't really give the full picture of our retention figures. I think once we start to return to more normal operations and further down the line, we'll assess it and start to see your more accurate trends. But so far, we don't anticipate any real negative effects.

Q: What are your recommendations for slowing membership cancellations or freezes? How can we best communicate with our members?

MACDONALD: We naturally had frozen our membership and then reactivated when the club opened. So basically, we added a good period of closure onto the original expiry date. That includes the PT as well.

The communication channel I mentioned is WeChat, which is a go-to platform for everybody here. We took a very proactive stance to allow for our members’ concerns. We tried to get ahead of their concerns so we anticipated their needs. The membership was frozen automatically and then unfrozen when the club opened.

Q: What are your recommendations for social distancing within the club once we can reopen?

MACDONALD: There's varying guidelines. For us, it’s 1 meter, but in the West I’ve seen 1-to-4 meters. Maybe it's due to wearing masks here. If everyone wears masks, maybe we can get closer, but I’m not sure. If it's in the club environment and it's 4 meters, then it's maybe not feasible to open your club or realistic to operate.

Depending on the size of the club and erring on the side of caution, I'd say we don't want to concern members, but we set a maximum of 30 per cycle, we’re not really planning to increase that until conditions allow. Many of us for example, our cardio equipment is pretty much jammed together side by side. We've taken out ... every second machine to partial more natural social distancing.

Q: What are your quick tips for reopening the club and phases considering things like swimming pools childcare, group exercise, etc.

MACDONALD: I've mentioned we opened up in phases. Mainly, so we’d have more control over things if we had any setbacks and because we weren't sure what the government policy was going to be. Be very cautious with that as there's a lot of uncertainties. None of us want to reopen too many at one time and then be closed down for not strictly following the procedures, or very few members coming in.

Of course, it depends on the type and what size of facilities you'd first like to reopen. It's down to each operator and their environments. For pools as of now, we can’t open and we're not going to look at opening. The clubs that have kids play areas embedded in them, we still haven't actually opened those yet.

Q: Same question that we asked Fiona earlier … what does the club of the future look like? What should we be considering for when we can reopen?

MACDONALD: Challenging question for me as well, could be anybody, but I'll give it my best shot.

For what you should be considering, I think I've answered most of those things in the presentation. But I would say everything. You've the time and probably the financial pressure to analyze every detail of what you do, and what you stand for in the community. I would say, stick to your core values. Remind yourself why you started in this business and what you can deliver but also, more importantly, what your teams are capable of delivering to your members.

I've heard of taking a kind of scattergun approach [on technology offerings] and the desperation of seeing other clubs doing it and just following and trying to do totally new programs, but only communicating these programs through virtual communication. It’s quite a risk communicating by video conferencing and so on because the understanding is different. This, I would suggest, is not the right type of strategy.

The club of the future? Again, that's a big question. I wish I knew. When the situation allows, it's important to reinvest. I know for some of you, hearing that is way too far down the line. But an essential part of business is “the new.” We're always innovating ourselves. A major part of that is the equipment manufacturers. We all seem to actually have forgotten about, and I haven't heard anybody talking about them. They form a crucial part of business through equipment and content innovation. So, I'd encourage all of us, when we can and do start to get some more cash flow and regenerate our businesses, to work with them and look after them because they've been an important supporter of our brand and company over the years. I'm sure everybody else as well. Thank you.