Pandemic teaches Kuwait’s fitness industry a healthy business lesson

Pandemic teaches Kuwait’s fitness industry a healthy business lesson
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Fitness centers in Kuwait have adopted novel business approaches in the wake of stringent virus curbs, including renting out equipment. Supplied
Pandemic teaches Kuwait’s fitness industry a healthy business lesson
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Fitness centers in Kuwait have adopted novel business approaches in the wake of stringent virus curbs, including renting out equipment. Supplied
Pandemic teaches Kuwait’s fitness industry a healthy business lesson
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Fitness centers in Kuwait have adopted novel business approaches in the wake of stringent virus curbs, including renting out equipment. Supplied
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Updated 05 December 2020

Pandemic teaches Kuwait’s fitness industry a healthy business lesson

Pandemic teaches Kuwait’s fitness industry a healthy business lesson
  • Gyms and fitness clubs in Kuwait were forced to shut down in mid-March and not allowed to resume until the end of August
  • To survive the pandemic, club owners were forced to innovate: renting out equipment and moving training sessions online

KUWAIT: The COVID-19 outbreak has had devastating effects on almost all aspects of business in the region, and the gym and fitness sectors are no exception. In response to this unprecedented challenge, some operators have come up with innovative ways to stay afloat and continue serving their customers.

Before the virus hit, the fitness market in Kuwait had achieved a steady annual growth rate of around 6 percent between 2012 and 2017. This expansion was fueled by an increasing expatriate population, widespread obesity, and a rise in health consciousness that has led to a shift in lifestyle. The growth rate was expected to hit around 10 percent in 2022, based on a report by Research And Markets.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our business greatly over the past six months and will continue to do so until people feel safe to return to the normality of life,” said Anthony Brown, operations manager at Elite Fitness, a facility in Kuwait that offers personal training, group fitness classes and aerial yoga, among other fitness activities.

Gyms and fitness clubs in Kuwait were forced to shut down in mid-March. As part of the government’s reopening plan, the sector was not allowed to resume operations until the end of August with certain restrictions in place to limit the spread of the disease among gym-goers.

“You put people together in a closed environment, particularly where they engage in strenuous activity that may involve them producing droplets, heavy breathing, shouting, whatever else,” Dr. Mike Ryan, an epidemiologist and the executive director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Program, said in a Q&A session on COVID-19.

With six full months of complete business shutdown, Elite Fitness — as other fitness businesses in Kuwait — had to innovate to remain afloat and ensure their staff of almost 70 people can survive.

“We immediately went online, offering classes and personal training sessions to be conducted through apps such as Zoom and Instagram,” Brown said.

According to him, that was not enough because a gym’s main source of revenue is people walking through the door and buying a membership. Thus, Elite Fitness and some of its peers decided to move the gym to customers’ homes.

“We are very fortunate in that we have a huge stockpile of equipment, so we were able to do this without compromising any equipment which we use in our facilities on a day-to-day basis,” Brown said.

IN NUMBER

6% Annual growth rate of Kuwait’s fitness sector in 2012-2017.

Over this period, the maintenance workers, receptionists and management team successfully rented out various gym equipment to over 100 customers. Most of the gear was delivered and unloaded in homes to ensure it arrived safely and in proper working order.

“People are now in the habit of (exercising) at home; they have seen the ease with which it can be done and the time and money they can potentially save,” Brown said.

While this shift might not be in the best financial interest of the gym industry, adapting to the new reality has helped Elite Fitness deal partly with the devastation the pandemic has caused.

Furthermore, current restrictions on the number of people allowed into fitness facilities increase the burden on the industry as it tries to recover. “We have over 3,500 square meters (of space). For our business to be functioning and profitable, we need to keep it busy,” Brown said.

Before COVID-19, Elite Fitness delivered over 200 sessions of personal training daily. Limits on how often members can come to the gym and the fact that classes can no longer be back to back to allow for cleaning have significantly impacted the number of training sessions the company can currently offer.

Brown, however, is not worried about the long-term prospects of his industry. “I think, with time, more people will start coming back. Gyms in Kuwait are very social and give people an outlet to interact, so inevitably they will again want to do this,” he said.

“As the market begins to recover and the population starts to regain confidence in getting out and (being) social, the industry will again start to boom, as it has over the past 10-15 years.”

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ª This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.

 


Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Updated 16 January 2021

Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
  • Veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis will be secretary-general Antonio Guterres’s representative to the country
  • Glimmers of hope for Libyans as progress reported at first meeting of Libyan Political Dialogue Forum’s advisory committee

NEW YORK: Security Council members on Friday approved the appointment of veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis as the UN’s special envoy to Libya.

It came as UN officials said significant progress has been made in Geneva this week during the inaugural meeting of the advisory committee for the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF).

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres nominated Kubis to be his envoy, a position that has been vacant since early March last year, when Ghassan Salameh resigned due to stress after less than three years in the job.

A number of replacements were suggested but members of the Security Council failed to agree on one. In December they overcame their differences and approved the choice of Bulgarian diplomat Nikolai Mladenov — only for him to surprise everyone by turning down the offer for “personal and family reasons.”

Kubis is currently the UN’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon. He previously held similar positions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric hailed what the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) described as significant progress during the first meeting of the LPDF’s advisory committee, which began in Geneva on Jan. 13 and concludes on Jan. 16.

“The mission hopes shortly they will be able to narrow down the major differences and reach near consensus on many of the contentious issues concerning the selection-mechanism proposals,” Dujarric said.

The formation of the advisory committee was announced on Jan. 3. Its 18 members, including women, young people and cultural figures, were chosen to reflect the country’s wide geographical and political diversity.

The secretary-general’s acting special representative for Libya, Stephanie Williams, had indicated that the main task for the committee would be to deliberate on the contentious issues that have plagued the selection of a unified executive authority. The aim is to develop solid recommendations the LPDF can consider in line with the political roadmap agreed by its 75 members during their first round of talks in Tunis last year.

This roadmap represents a rights-based process designed to culminate in democratic and inclusive national elections Dec. 24 this year. The date is also that of Libya’s 70th Independence Day. The elections will mark the end of the transitional phase for the country and chart a new way forward.

“This unwavering achievement, this date to return the sovereign decision to its rightful owners, is our top priority,” said Williams in her opening remarks at the advisory committee meeting in Geneva this week.

She also rejected claims that UNSMIL will have any say in the selection of the new executive authority. “This is a Libyan-Libyan decision,” Williams said, adding that the interim authority is intended to “shoulder the responsibility in a participatory manner and not on the basis of power-sharing, as some believed.”

She added: “We want a participatory formula where there is no victor, no vanquished; a formula for coexistence for Libyans of various origins for a specific period of time until we pass on the torch.

UNSMIL spokesman Jean Alam said the Geneva talks have already overcome some major hurdles. This builds on the political accomplishments since the Tunis meeting at which a consensus was reached on the political roadmap, the eligibility criteria for positions in the unified executive authority, and the authority’s most important prerogative: setting a date for the elections.

He also reported “very encouraging progress” in military matters since the signing of a ceasefire agreement in October by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC), the members of which include five senior officers selected by the Government of National Accord and five selected by the Libyan National Army.

“This includes the recent exchanges of detainees conducted under the JMC’s supervision, as part of wider confidence-building measures; the resumption of flights to all parts of Libya; the full resumption of oil production and export; as well as the proposed unification and restructuring of the Petroleum Facilities Guards, in addition to the ongoing serious talks on the opening of the coastal road between Misrata and Sirte, which we hope will take place very soon,” said Alam.

He also hailed “promising developments” relating to the economy, including the recent unification of the exchange rate by the Central Bank of Libya, a step that requires the formation of a new authority for it to be implemented.

“The recent meeting between the ministries of finance was an important effort to unify the budget and allocate sufficient funding to improve services and rebuild Libya’s deteriorating infrastructure, particularly the electrical grid,” Alam said.

“All of these reforms are steps that will bring national institutions together to work in establishing a more durable and equitable economic arrangement.”

Williams added that without a unified executive authority, it would difficult to implement these steps.