The health and fitness industry is flourishing in the UAE and wider Gulf region at present, with last year’s Dubai Fitness Challenge proving that there is a real appetite for physical activity in this part of the world. Fitness app GuavaPass recognised that potential for growth when it arrived in the Middle East in September 2015 and since then has set about disrupting the market with its approach.
The company, created by Singapore-based entrepreneurs Jeff Liu and Rob Pachter, has revolutionised the fitness landscape – ending the reliance on traditional gym memberships.
The GuavaPass app allows users to book fitness classes around Dubai and Abu Dhabi – and since last month, Bahrain – without tying themselves down to one provider. A person could do spinning in Motor City, yoga in Dubai Marina the day after and crossfit in Al Quoz the next.
Flexibility and diversity are Guava’s key attraction, according to UAE General Manager Johanna Bergsli, who has overseen operations since the app launched in Dubai three years ago and is delighted with how the product has been welcomed.
GUAVAPASS: AN APPETITE FOR ACTIVITY
“I lived in Singapore before but I think people in the UAE and particularly Dubai are even more interested in fitness, wellness and healthy living,” Bergsli tells Sport Industry Insider. “That’s obviously been advantageous to us – we were a start-up but the response of our customers has allowed us to expand rapidly.”
That expansion was also helped by a $5 million investment from Vickers Venture Partners following a Series A funding round in 2016. By that time, Bergsli had already helped establish the product in Dubai as one member a two-person team, travelling around the city and signing up gyms and studios to be part of the GuavaPass network.
She found that smaller facilities, in particular, were receptive to the proposition and, three years on, that support for small businesses has remained a core part of the GuavaPass offering.
“It can be very difficult for studios in the UAE in comparison to elsewhere. In many cities, a lot of your business comes from footfall. Here, visibility is limited. Studios are often in random office buildings and you don’t walk past them. And they are often not allowed advertising or branding outside. You have to know it’s there.
“For those smaller studios, GuavaPass is a big help. Marketing budgets are tight or non-existent so we are here to help with that. They get the visibility on the platform and they get people through the door – that is the main challenge for the studios.
“Some facilities we speak to still don’t understand the benefit but they would quickly realise that to be sent an additional something on the bottom line each month is no bad thing and to have someone to do marketing and promotion for them is pretty useful too!”
The GuavaPass UAE team now stands at nine employees, with the most recent addition hired to focus specifically on increasing the corporate client base. It is a strategy that has already begun to bear fruit in Singapore and Bergsli is confident the same will happen in the Gulf.
A NEW CORPORATE STRATEGY
“What we’ve quickly realised is that simply selling memberships to organisations doesn’t work anymore. Companies are more interested in full integration so we changed the concept from sales to creating fitness solutions for corporates.
“We will come in and facilitate fitness, using our existing partners. It may be hosting classes in their office space once a week or once a month. Or we can create a fun, engaging programme together using partner studios and fitness professionals.”
A rapidly growing corporate client list includes some impressive names, while a recent campaign with Lipton Green Tea also demonstrated the scope for further business development.
Week 1 of the #Guava18 Challenge and what a week it’s been! There are 3 more weeks to complete your 18 different #GuavaPass classes in the month of Jan! 🏋🏻 🏃 🥊 Join the GuavaPass community now at https://t.co/n1NTra3Qwk #OnePassOneCommunity pic.twitter.com/QkJ02ItAhW
— GuavaPass (@GuavaPass) January 9, 2018
“We are working with lots of big companies,” Bergsli explains. “We do a lot with Unilever and have worked with Emirates for some time. We were part of their corporate wellness day and have a lot of their crew using the pass; if they go to Singapore, Hong Kong or Bangkok they can use the pass there, which they love.
“The Lipton Green Tea campaign is something we are particularly proud of, too. Every week you can take a free Lipton Green Tea Class in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and you take away some tea at the end of the class.
“We also organised regular yoga classes at their office; it is about creating fitness solutions and also giving brands exposure to our customers.”
For Bergsli, the profile of those brands is all important when considering potential corporate clients. She insists that it is about the right fit rather than the money.
PICKING THE RIGHT PARTNERS
“We are very careful about who we take on board as partners. Lipton is green tea, it’s about healthy options and the right ethos. Would we work with someone like McDonald’s? Not unless they changed their approach!
“But for the right clients we have a great proposition. With a big network internationally we have also gathered a lot of data, in terms of stats on fitness health in the region – we can use this to advise companies who want to establish themselves in the regional fitness and wellness scene. It’s our area of expertise.”
That regional expertise recently spread into Bahrain, with the launch of the app in March. Saudi Arabia seems an obvious future step given the breakneck evolution of its fitness industry, but Bergsli believes it is probably a little too early to take GuavaPass into the Kingdom.
“The Middle East is an exciting region to be in and that is why expansion has been so fast. We’re obviously seeing more openness to sport in Saudi Arabia; there are a lot of new gyms opening and more females using sports facilities and gyms.
“It’s fantastic to see but our model is not about just opening gyms – we are reliant on infrastructure which already exists. With Saudi it needs to be the case that they have enough gyms and facilities already for it to make sense. We’re not sure it’s quite at that stage yet but we are definitely exploring more opportunities in the region.”
Those opportunities appear to be myriad, with the introduction of a GuavaPass studio in Dubai (to match their bespoke facility in Singapore) another vertical currently under consideration. With 100,000 fitness classes across 1,000 studios in 11 cities, it certainly seems the GuavaPass fitness revolution is showing no signs of slowing down.