ClassPass entered the UAE health and fitness market to much fanfare last October having emerged as the leading class booking app in the United States, as well as establishing a robust presence in Europe. In the UAE, its most obvious competition was GuavaPass but in January of this year ClassPass acquired the Singaporean company for $4.2 million – immediately becoming the industry leader in the Emirates and Southeast Asia.
Operating a credits-based membership system, users pay a subscription to be able to search and book a range of classes, from yoga and indoor cycling to strength training and Pilates. Membership plans are flexible, making it a more popular option than traditional gyms for many.
Ashley Kent, UAE Country Manager of ClassPass, moved to the Gulf from Australia last August to oversee the launch of the app and admits that a foray into a brand new market is not without its challenges, even with a product that has great brand equity.
“We have developed a successful formula for each launch but we always need to consider the local customs, language and goals and of each region,” Kent tells Sport Industry Insider. “It’s very important that we hire a local team and partner with the right agencies to make each launch successful.
“We need a team on the ground who can evaluate the top gyms and studios, and start meaningful conversations with the leading fitness providers in each city. For each region, we need to navigate any local regulations and policies to make sure we are approved for launch.”
In the past 12 months, ClassPass has launched in 15 markets and is due to be in 30 countries by the end of 2019. Its fitness footprint includes 22,000 studio partners around the world. As well as selection of the right studios, effective marketing is the other central pillars for a success rollout.
“Our flexibility and customer-first approach has been a major differentiator in every market but we always need to figure out the best way to spread the word. One region may be very reliant on local news, whereas another city is entirely dependent on word of mouth.
It all comes back to the team we hire, and making sure that we have a terrific group of local agency partners and country managers who can make sure our strategy is customized for each region.”
In the UAE, ClassPass has found that a strong governmental focus on health and fitness is a boon for business. The 2018 Dubai Fitness Challenge for example saw more than one million people participate more than 8,000 classes offered in 250 locations across the city. Exposing this number of people to the possibilities of studio fitness is certainly a great marketing opportunity for companies like ClassPass, with the 2019 Dubai Fitness Challenge set to be even bigger.
“It is inspiring to see so many people taking part in fitness across the UAE and there are some amazing initiatives like the Dubai Fitness Challenge that are driving a lot of this momentum. We are proud to be one of the reasons that the boutique fitness industry continues to grow, and to support these studios daily.
“We’ve made it easier for people across Dubai and Abu Dhabi to access thousands of classes and get active, as well as giving them access to over 5 million classes as they travel throughout the globe.”
The ability to use the ClassPass app globally is certainly a major part of its appeal to those who travel regularly, while the app now also offers experiences beyond traditional fitness classes.
“We have great variety and I really enjoy being able to visit our local partners and test out a spin class at Crank studio or a HIIT class at The Platform,” Kent says. “In addition we’ve expanded our offerings to include wellness options such as massages and haircuts, so that we can continue to be a one stop shop for services that help people feel their best.”
With the UAE market seemingly captured, ClassPass is now exploring further expansion opportunities. Xponential, the world’s largest curator of boutique fitness brands in the world, recently announced that it will launch 50 studios in Saudi Arabia over the next three years. This, coupled with the Kingdom’s current appetite for all things sports and entertainment, means it is no surprise that Saudi Arabia is firmly on ClassPass’ radar.
“The UAE has been a great first step into the Middle East and there’s definitely talk of expansion into other Middle East markets. In particular, Saudi Arabia is obviously experiencing tremendous growth and the Xponential launch will continue to add fuel to the studio landscape.
“The growth in the Saudi Arabia fitness scene has been very exciting to see and we think that momentum will continue to build. We are keeping a close eye on trends emerging throughout this region and hope to stay ahead of them.
“Of course we also want to continue to partner with studios throughout the UAE, so that we continue to offer the largest network of coverage out of any fitness aggregator.”