x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Fitness First to expand across Middle East with $150m injection

Fitness First aims to expand its Middle East network this year with new clubs in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey.

The world's largest health club chain plans to expand its Middle East network this year with new branches in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey.

Fitness First, which is operated under franchise by Landmark Group in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), currently has 38 branches in the region.

That number is set to expand to 100 over the next three years as a result of a US$150 million (Dh550.97m) injection of equity into the business by Fitness First.

"Going forward our core areas of expansion will be Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi ... and Kuwait," said Praveen Bhatnagar, the chief executive of Landmark Hotels and Wellness, in Dubai yesterday.

"These three areas are under-represented by international fitness chains and also looking at our geographical presence, these areas are under-represented by Fitness First."

Fitness First gyms are currently present in six Mena countries, and the chain claims more than 60,000 members across the region. The chain says it benefited from a 33 per cent increase in enrolments and a 30 per cent growth in regional sales last year.

New and existing branches in Saudi Arabia are for men only as the company does not have the licensing agreements needed for women's gyms, said George Flooks, the chief operating officer at Fitness First Middle East.

Mark Botha, the operations and marketing manager at Fitness FirstMiddle East, said the region's climate and certain health issues provide an opportunity for companies such as Fitness First.

"We know the sedentary lifestyle, all these bits and pieces don't help. The heat, going out and exercising, the convenience of food all play a part.

"But if we can build a health club that is convenient to where you live or work you are more likely to use it," said Mr Botha.

A report released last year by BMC Public Health revealed that Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE all made the list of the world's top 10 fattest nations. And another study by the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association found that just 2 per cent of people in the Middle East are members of a health club or do any kind of structured exercise.

Many new apartment blocks in the UAE have gyms. But Fitness First said this creates the company with an opportunity, rather than pose a threat.

"Those little gyms actually broaden the market and encourage more people to exercise," said Mr Flooks. "Down the track we think it will encourage them to join Fitness First because we have some unique products," he added.