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Sun 24 Feb 2008 02:00 PM

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Gym wars

The recent announcement that Virgin Active has teamed up with the Sharaf Group to roll out its chain of premium health clubs in the UAE is good news for the country's fitness industry.

The recent announcement that Virgin Active has teamed up with the Sharaf Group to roll out its chain of premium health clubs in the UAE is good news for the country's fitness industry.

The health club market currently consists of just one other major international chain, Fitness First, which entered Dubai two years ago.

Since then, Fitness First - which operates more than 500 clubs worldwide - has grown quickly to a portfolio of 10 clubs across the UAE, Lebanon, and Jordan, with plans to double the portfolio this year.

The chain's development has no doubt been impressive and has started to move the industry forward, with a greater awareness of the need to insist upon internationally-recognised industry qualifications among gym staff and to grow revenue generators such as personal training.

However, the Fitness First clubs now dotted across Dubai have also drawn attention to the limited choice consumers have when it comes to fitness.

Aside from the huge, multi-service Fitness First clubs, there are a few smaller chains such as Body & Soul Health Clubs and hotel gyms, which although often equipped with high quality kit, lack the atmosphere of a health ‘club'.

In addition, while Fitness First markets itself as "great value for great service" (according to CEO Gary Knill), membership to hotel gyms can be hard to come by and quite expensive.

There is surely room for fitness facilities that fall somewhere in the middle of what is presently on offer.

Virgin Active, it is hoped, will take advantage of this gap in the market and enter the UAE with something really quite different, reigniting the fitness boom inaugurated by Fitness First two years ago.

Judging by the vibrant clubs already operated by Virgin Active in the UK, South Africa, Italy, Spain and Portugal, fitness fans in the UAE are unlikely to be disappointed.

Facilities will include cardiovascular equipment with iPod compatibility, modern alternative training kit such as Kinesis and Power Plate, funky group exercise classes and super convenient services such as free internet station and WiFi access.

Child-minding services will also be offered by the chain's Club V concept in order to open up exercise to more people.

The aim, according to Virgin Active country manager Rick Jaffe, is to "bring the best of breed to the UAE" and create not just a gym but a real "wellness hub".

As well as pleasing consumers, this is also a positive step for the fitness industry. After all, the presence of a new chain will raise the public profile of fitness, bringing more people into gyms, and hopefully place renewed focus on the industry standards already being promoted by industry experts such as Fitness First.

Virgin Active is currently looking for sites in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. For more information, see the March issue of Leisure Manager.

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zaytouna 10 years ago

Need some competition! Fitness First is such a monopoly in the market here that you get what they want to give you- not what you need! I need a child-friendly space where my kids can chill. They have children's pools- but children are not allowed in to use them. Even when the gym is empty in the mornings. And why can't we all have a locker to keep? There are about 30 ladies and 200 lockers. But we still have to carry all our stuff everyday and clear the locker when we finished. And the managers do their best to ignore requests and complaints. Because they know we don't have an alternative.