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Fri 17 Aug 2007 12:00 AM

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On the front line in the fight against flab

Each week Arabian Business turns the spotlight on a leading company.

Each week Arabian Business turns the spotlight on a leading company.

It's been a long time since I've been to the gym, but what's all this talk about fitness centres springing up in different corners of Dubai?

You're probably talking about Fitness First, and if you live anywhere near the BurJuman Centre, you'll have noticed that one of its new branches has just opened up. They're all over the emirate now. According to CEO Gary Knill, the region's residents are "embracing a healthier lifestyle" and Fitness First is determined to get in on the action.

What's their background?

Well, Fitness First Gym & Health Club started as a single health and fitness club in Bournemouth in the UK in 1992. It is now one of the largest gym, health and fitness clubs in the world majority owned by private equity giant Cinven. The franchise is held by Dubai-based company Leisure Unlimited, a joint venture between Global Brands and Saudi Arabian retail giant Fawaz Al Hokair Group. Fawaz Al Hokair Group owns and operates more than 500 outlets including over 45 international brands such as Geant, Marks & Spencer and clothes store Zara.

So we want to get fit in the Middle East, do we?

Apparently so. Knill says Fitness First has "been incredibly well received" since opening its first club in the region, attracting members from a variety of different backgrounds. The first club it opened was here in Dubai in Ibn Battuta Mall, and it now has four other clubs in the emirate in Mirdiff, Dubai Festival City, Dubai International Financial Centre and the Bur Jurman Centre. There are also a number of health and fitness clubs in Lebanon and Jordan.

But why hasn't anyone else recognised the potential?

Good question. Most gyms in Dubai tend to be in hotels and apartment blocks often have their own swimming pools and gyms. Other international fitness clubs don't have much of a profile here, although there is a Nautilis Gym in the Mussalla Towers in Bur Dubai.

Will I be able to afford to get fit, though?

According to Knill, Fitness First strives to "provide the highest standard of affordable fitness". Membership fees are all inclusive and there is even computer access and WiFi in the members lounge.

And where's next?

The word on the treadmill is that new clubs are opening in the World Trade Centre in Bahrain, Hamra in Lebanon and in Dubai's Media City, all before the end of October. And apparently the Passport Program allows members access to clubs throughout the region. Post-October the plan is to expand into Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Oman, Morocco, Kuwait, Qatar, Syria and Pakistan.

Ambitious. That's basically everywhere except Yemen and Israel?

Looks like it. In the words of Knill, "we are keen to embrace any opportunities that are presented to us". Judging by the size of the weights in its gyms, that could be a tight embrace.

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