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Passport Program Creates Global Connections Among Health Clubs

In its first year after going mobile, the evolving IHRSA Passport Program, powered by TrainAway, is reaching more clubs and more members.

Nearly 18 months ago in October 2018, IHRSA announced plans to take its venerable and perpetually popular Passport Program digital, beginning in 2019.

IHRSA had just partnered with TrainAway, a Copenhagen, Denmark–based company whose bold mission is to develop the world’s largest and most extensive health club network for travelers who want to remain fit while en route.

Now that the Passport Program utilizes a seamless virtual process, members of IHRSA clubs can take advantage of it by simply downloading the TrainAway app on their smartphones or tablets. They can then locate participating facilities worldwide in a matter of seconds.

TrainAway currently provides reduced-price access to more than 1,300 clubs in 46 countries.

To take advantage of this free IHRSA benefit, all member clubs have to do is sign up.

A rapid increase in participation attests to the program’s ease of use, valuable benefits, and ongoing improvement.

But How Does It Work?

Once your club has enrolled, your members will be able to use the TrainAway app to search for any IHRSA club, anywhere in the world. The unique invitation code you share with them entitles them to a 25% discount on the purchase of a one-day pass at the Passport club of their choice. When they enter the host facility, the front desk staff identifies the pass on their mobile device … and the member is good to go!

Because the Passport Program is reciprocal, enrolled clubs must agree to welcome Passport visitors from clubs located at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) away, and provide the 25% discount.

“It’s a great offering for smaller, independent clubs that don’t have a network of facilities for their members to make use of—a perk that their corporate clients may desire,” says Tara Verity, IHRSA’s senior service project manager. “At the same time, it’s appealing to larger ones or to chains that lack the international reach that TrainAway provides. It also offers both groups the opportunity to grow their memberships and, potentially, generate extra revenue.”

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TrainAway tracks all of the data generated, and sends monthly usage reports to participating clubs, and also handles all program payments, sending the fees collected directly to clubs’ bank accounts. Clubs can employ the usage data in their marketing and retention efforts, crafting messages to frequent users and corporate clients.

There’s a host of other benefits, as well.

One Year on the Market Means Major Improvements

The Passport Program has additional club-friendly features, and is constantly being updated and enhanced, explains Kenn Gudbergsen, the co-founder of TrainAway.

It has an Admin Panel, an online portal that provides club operators with access to user data, and provides direct control over how users interact with their facilities. “The portal also boasts a toolkit that contains messaging and images to help clubs promote the program, and information that assists front desk staff in welcoming a visitor,” says Verity.

As with any new undertaking, the program is undergoing subtle, on-the-fly modifications based on user need.

“For example, we’ve changed the invitation code system—which ensures that only users with a valid club membership can use the program—to make it easier for clubs and members,” Gudbergsen reports. “Members no longer have to enter a new invitation code every three months. And clubs can now request a new invitation code whenever they like.”

Since the beginning of 2019, TrainAway also has piloted a number of concepts designed to better educate club staff and members, ensure seamless admission of Passport visitors, and more. “We’ll be extending this engagement program in the coming months,” says Gudbergsen, “sharing content, processes, and best practices via webinars, online materials, and direct communication.”

Participation Continues to Grow

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As a result of the Passport Program’s intrinsic value, clear appeal, digital efficiency, and consistent improvement, participation in the program has more than doubled over the past year.

“Our decision to partner with TrainAway has proven to be an excellent one for both our clubs and their members,” says Verity. “It grants access to more than 1,000 facilities worldwide, and that figure continues to grow. The fact that it requires virtually no administration on the part of clubs makes getting involved a no-brainer.”

Some 500 clubs signed up almost immediately after the digital launch, says Gudbergsen, and since then, 600 more have gotten involved. Similar growth is expected in 2020. “The program is in 49 states in the U.S. and in all of Canada’s major cities. It also encompasses large parts of South America and Europe. We’re now in a total of 601 cities.

“The user base has grown significantly, with fitness fans from many nations buying club passes.”

Glowing Reviews Pour In From Fans

By all accounts, IHRSA clubs, far and wide, have been quick to recognize the value and demonstrated promise of the Passport Program’s new digital format.

From the U.S., to Canada, to Portugal—the reviews are uniformly positive.

“It’s a benefit that meets our members’ needs,” says Michele Melkerson-Granryd, the general manager of one of two upscale Castle Hill Fitness facilities, in Austin, Texas. “Our membership is diverse in age, but, for most, fitness is a way of life. It’s great to be able to offer them a way to stay fit while they’re on the road. There’s just no downside.” Melkerson-Granryd also is a member of IHRSA’s board of directors.

GYMVMT, a 23-unit Canadian chain based in Calgary, Alberta, has participated in the Passport Program for the past 11 years, and appreciates the extra virtues of the digital edition.

“We just recently switched over to the TrainAway app, and are still in the early education-and-adoption phase of the roll out,” says Dennis Gardner, the company’s senior regional sales director.

“However, the initial feedback has been very positive—from both our membership base and from the front desk and sales staff, whose job it is to educate members about the program and the functionality of the app.”

The best new benefit, he says, is that, by using the app’s map function, it’s easy for members to locate clubs close to where they’re staying while vacationing or traveling.

Meanwhile, in Portugal, nearly 5,000 miles away, Passport is producing dividends for Fitness Hut, which has 44 clubs throughout the country. “This program is important for us because of our extensive coverage in Portugal,” says Amâncio Santos, the operations director for the chain. “It provides a great opportunity for foreign travelers to explore different areas of Portugal, and work out at our great facilities while they’re traveling for business or pleasure.”

Now Time to Take Over the World

Now that the program has been in place and in play for over a year, it’s ready to grow, predicts Gudbergsen. “Up until now, we’ve largely been concentrating on North America and Western Europe in order to develop a framework of clubs in those regions. Now, we’re looking to the rest of Europe and Asia-Pacific as we attempt to provide comprehensive global coverage in 2020.”

At the same time, in those areas such as North America where the network has already been established, the company is working even harder to help clubs engage their members in the program.

“We’ve been delighted with the growth to this point, both in terms of enrolled clubs and in the steady increase in the number of users,” he says. “It performs best at clubs that are really engaged—from making sure that all of their staff are educated, to communicating effectively with members so they can take advantage of this great perk.

“We’re striving to construct the highest-quality network of health clubs in the world, and we hugely appreciate the support and hard work of so many IHRSA clubs.”

Note: Even if you’ve participated in the IHRSA Passport Program in the past, you need to enroll through TrainAway in order to continue to offer this benefit to your members.

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Jon Feld

Jon Feld is a contributor to Club Business International.