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Key Learnings From Elevate 2023

The industry came out in force once again for Elevate 2023 this June. As the biggest fitness tradeshow in the UK, Elevate offered many opportunities for learning and networking. We know there’s always lots to do and see at Elevate, so here are our key learnings for leisure operators that you might have missed.

The sun shone for a second year running as Elevate took place on 14 and 15 June 2023 at ExCel London. Thousands of leaders from leisure trusts, local authorities, gyms, and universities gathered to see showcases from hundreds of suppliers and industry partners.

Elevate 2023 was the 6th edition of the fitness tradeshow. And it exceeded all expectations with exceptional opportunities for operators of all shapes and sizes to collaborate and share the latest thinking.

Thank you to all our customers and partners, as well as industry friends both old and new, who visited Legend at the Xplor stand. We hope you enjoyed our retro pick ‘n’ mix stall while you stopped by – a much needed sugar hit for a busy day!

We know it’s always an incredibly busy couple of days for operators. So, we’ve put together our key learnings from the education sessions on offer to help you catch up on anything you missed.

Learning #1: Pivot to active wellbeing

The need to shift focus and reposition the leisure industry to focus more on active wellbeing and become more integrated into the health ecosystem in the UK has been a hot topic so far in 2023. It was covered in many sessions during Elevate.

Elevate opened with a motivating speech from ukactive CEO, Huw Edwards. In the opening address, entitled More People, More Active, More Often, Huw talked about the role the sector can play in lessening the growing burden that ill health is placing on the NHS:

“The Government must – if it wants to preserve the NHS – make the shift to prevention.

But it does have a choice on how effective and robust that preventative strategy can be.

And it will only be effective and robust if it fully leverages the potential of this sector and the people in this room.

We want to change and grow the role we play in addressing some of the urgent societal issues we face, making a significant contribution to several of the major challenges in the Government’s in-tray…”

– Huw Edwards

The need to support healthcare was also discussed during the Getting The Industry In Shape For The Future panel on Thursday. Hosted by Alina Cooper (Co-Founder & COO of GetSetGo!), this panel included Steve Ruffel (Orbit4), Chris Scragg (Nuffield Health), Neil King (Longevity Network), and other experts.

Chris described the need for operators to think of themselves as healthcare providers – providing members with an interdisciplinary team to support the physical and mental health. Yet, this is tough for one operator to provide. It’s better achieved through collaboration with other providers to build an ecosystem of support for members.

The repositioning was discussed at length during the inspirational GM Active: A Case Study On The Pivot To Active Wellbeing session. The line up included key stakeholders from across the Greater Manchester leisure sector – Andy King (GM Active / MCR Active), Jon Keating (GM Active), Hayley Lever (GM Moving / GreaterSport), and John Oxley (ActiveXchange / Life Leisure).

The group shared how the leisure operators throughout the region came together to work with other stakeholders across Greater Manchester, to address the inactivity crisis. They discussed how operators can go about being seen and taken seriously in order to effectively reposition from leisure to wellbeing. Transforming to play an active, valued role in the healthcare ecosystem, you can read more about the process here.

When asked what advice they would give to other operators looking to make the pivot to active wellbeing, the group shared the need to form strong relationships with other local stakeholders. That means asking questions, avoiding assumptions, and listening lots, then collaborating to scale programmes.

Learning #2: Reach the other 85%

The recently released LeisureDB’s State of the UK Fitness Industry 2023 report found that the industry currently has a 15.1% penetration rate. That means that there’s close to 85% of the UK population still to be reached.

LeisureDB’s David Minton hosted the Future Trends panel with Sam Miller (Atlas AI), Neil King (Longevity Network), Lara Morgan, and Kate Corfield (Ministry of Sound). The group discussed how there’s a need to win back a proportion of the 85% who used to be members of leisure centres and gyms but have since left.

Many of these former / failed members will have felt excluded in some way – whether that’s due to a lack of people like them in the facility, activities that didn’t meet their needs, or another reason.

To address this the group discussed the need to adjust imagery used, recruit from new talent pools, and expand offerings to incorporate activities and wellbeing elements that cater for more demographics.

During the Leveraging Technology To Deliver Deeply Tailored Member Experiences session with Martin Perry (Technogym UK) and Dave Alstead (Xplor), Dave also touched on the need to rebrand the ‘gym’. Dave explained that for many of the 85% the gym will be perceived as a place for other people.

Imagery used within the sector and on social platforms like Instagram, can make the gym an intimidating place for new starters and returners. Repositioning what the gym has to offer will make sure more groups feel like it’s a place for them.

And during Wednesday’s Levelling The Playing Field: Demystifying And Highlighting The Business Positives Of EDI Strategies panel, Dave Messenger, EDI Lead for Watford Football Club shared how the club reaches more of the communities in its area.

As well as making sure the workforce reflects the local community, the club works with community partners around the stadium to engage supporters and the wider community (who might not usually visit the club) with a series of events and community initiatives.

For leisure operators, similar focuses could help more of the local community feel welcomed and like facilities are for people like them.

Learning #3: Analyse failures to increase market penetration

Often operators have no real idea why members leave and that makes it tough to resolve and overcome challenges that lead to cancellations. Typically focus falls on the need to sign up new members to ‘replace’ those leaving. Yet, if operators can address the true reasons why members cancel, retention will be higher. And that will in turn increase market penetration.

In an exclusive preview for Elevate attendees of Xplor’s new attrition research, Huw Edwards (ukactive), hosted the Winning The War On Attrition panel with Julie Allen (Leisure-Net Solutions), Guy Griffiths (GGFit), Martin Perry (Technogym), and Dave Alstead (Xplor).

As well as showcasing some of the attrition trends the leisure industry is seeing, Dave explained the need to follow the example set by other industries such as aviation. By analysing failures that cause members to leave and taking action to address them in the future, operators can reduce the likelihood of future new members cancelling.

Register here to receive your copy of our attrition research as soon as it’s released in July. You’ll get data-led insights coupled with practical solutions from industry leaders including Guy Griffiths and Julie Allen.

Learning #4: Focus on longevity

During both the Future Trends and Getting The Industry In Shape For The Future panels, fitness industry legend and founder of Longevity Network, Neil King, shared that by 2030 more than half of the UK will be aged over 50.

Neil highlighted that a key trend for the coming years will be an increased focus on supporting active aging. So, people can enjoy life with good health and mobility for longer.

This is an opportunity for operators to reach areas of the population aged 50+ and support active aging. Through Longevity, Neil is bringing together biotech and fitness to slow down and reverse aging. By partnering with the scientific community, Longevity is using DNA to offer the right exercise programmes, alongside personalised nutrition, and supplementation, to deliver measurable results to members.

Longevity is just coming into focus and it’s an area for operators to pay attention to as the need to reach new demographics and deliver quantifiable results grows.

Learning #5: Support young people effectively

From the aging population to young people, the Breaking The Mould: Innovative Approaches To Engaging Young People In Physical Activity… panel discussed ways to reach more young people.

Hosted by Chris Sharman, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Topodium Group, the panel included a fantastic line up of experts in this field including Vicky Fitzgerald (Nuffield), Rob Christie (Airquee) and Charlotte Owen (Kidzivity).

The group discussed the challenge of getting young people to step away from screens to address high rates of inactivity and obesity. Something that’s so important for encouraging later in life activity.

For many young people, and particularly girls, traditional PE along is not enough to encourage a love of physical activity. Ways to get young people active, away from PE and a school setting were shared. From inflatable courses to Ninja Warrior competitions, leisure operators need to get creative in how young people are catered for.

And facilities need the right staff in place to support these activities. Children today often need help playing and ideas on how to overcome boredom. That requires staff who have adequate training to provide support and deliver experiences that encourage repeat visits.

Incorporating technology and creating gamification – both at an individual and team level – are great ways to support young people in building valuable skills and habits.

Learning #6: Educate to increase inclusivity

Another key part of the community that leisure operators can better support are those who are disabled / differently abled – approximately 22% of the UK population. With over 40% of differently abled people classed as inactive, there’s a significant opportunity to have a big impact.

The Inclusivity – How Education Is The Key panel on Thursday afternoon discussed how education can be used to increase inclusivity within the leisure sector and decrease inactivity rates.

The panel was led by Carl Richards (Future Fit) and included an inspirational set of panellists – Jaina Mistry, Ali Jawad (Accessorise) and Rebecca Gibson (Sport Structures). The group discussed the need to upskill trainers and build confidence in working with differently abled people. As well as the need to address accessibility of marketing, language, education, and facilities to cater to and resonate with individuals.

As a part of this, the group identified the need to open up career pathways within the leisure industry and to recruit more differently abled personal trainers. A workforce that includes a greater number of differently abled people has the power to transform the impact the industry can have in becoming truly inclusive.

Learning #7: Rethink recruitment & professionalisation

Another topic that was discussed in multiple sessions, was the industry’s workforce challenge. Leisure operators have always lost transient staff, but COVID, Brexit and other issues have accelerated the churn of staff. And left many struggling to fill vacancies.

Without the right teams in place, leisure operators struggle to deliver the services that are much needed to improve the health of the nation.

During the Future Trends panel, Longevity Network, Neil King shared the need to recruit outside of the traditional talent pools that the industry relies on. Instead looking to older workers who are educated and have the benefit of greater life experience – such as those leaving careers in healthcare and teaching.

Similarly, during the Getting The Industry In Shape For The Future panel, Lisa Kuecker (Studio Grow) explained that with the aging population brings those retiring from other careers looking to embark on a new career in the fitness industry.

As well as recruiting from new talent pools, the need to professionalise and correctly skill those working within the industry was highlighted during the GM Active: A Case Study On The Pivot To Active Wellbeing session.

The experts from GM Active, shared how attention is needed to build the right team with the right skills if the leisure sector is to successfully pivot to active wellbeing. Different skillsets are required to those traditionally found in the leisure centre environment.

We can’t wait for Elevate 2024

Those were our biggest learnings from Elevate 2023 for leisure operators of all shapes and sizes. We’ve come away from Elevate more inspired and motivated by our industry than ever before and can’t wait to see and be part of it’s future.

We’re excited for Elevate to return on 12 and 13 June 2024.

See our all-in-one leisure management software in action – get in touch today.