EuropeActive hosted its 7th annual European Health and Fitness Forum (EHFF) on Wednesday, 30th September 2020.  This year's event marked a shift away from the traditional format in order to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions, resulting in a completely virtual high-level live stream from Düsseldorf, Germany. Speakers and panellists who contributed to the event, joined both on-site and virtually, enabling EHFF to reach more people from across Europe and the world than ever before. In line with this year’s theme of “Where do we go from here?”, speakers and panellists gave in-depth analysis about the current situation in which the sector has found itself and identified potential scenarios and opportunities moving forward.

Reed Exhibitions Germany CEO Hans-Joachim Erbel and EuropeActive’s Executive Director Andreas Paulsen welcomed delegates: "I am extremely grateful for the virtual EHFF programme that the EuropeActive and FIBO Teams have put together at this critical time for our sector and all of society. Our team and national association partners are committed to ensure that the European fitness and physical activity sector emerges stronger than ever from the turbulence caused by Covid-19. A stronger fitness and physical activity sector means healthier citizens - and consequently, a stronger and better Europe!", Andreas Paulsen mentioned.

EuropeActive/FIBO Ambassador & EHFF moderator Herman Rutgers introduced the event by acknowledging the challenging situation the sector has found itself in but also highlighted the possibilities that could arise from it: “This has been a crisis situation, and in some ways still is – but where there is adversity, there is opportunity. Never before have the benefits of health-enhancing physical activity been so much at the forefront of everybody’s minds. Together we can help the sector move forward into the future.”

Keynote speakers and publications in the spotlight

Magnus Lindkvist, trend spotter and futurologist, kicked off the EHFF presentations by explaining why the long-term is much easier to predict than the short-term; how digitalisation is incorrectly implemented in most industries and how the term future should be thought of as a verb than a noun: "We are not good at future thinking, we're bad at predicting and guessing. This is why we should speak of future as an activity, it's an everyday activity we can mould".

Karsten Hollasch, Partner and Head of Consumer Business at Deloitte, took delegates through the key findings of the Covid-19 Impact Study, underlining that although "Covid-19 has a significant impact on the European fitness industry, the sector can still achieve its mid and long-term goals”.  As Hollasch pointed out, “during the crisis, the majority of fitness chains used the opportunity to drive their digitalisation forward and thus improve their readiness for the future”.

The key findings of the report were complemented by the Covid-19 impact study in the UK presented by 4Global Partner Utku Toprakseven. Using consumer behaviour analysis and predictive modelling, the study in partnership with ukactive provided an evidence-based set of projections for the recovery of the sector and the long-term impact of Covid-19 on participation and the social value of the sector. He insisted on "engagement and retention" when dealing with current customers and also "member acquisition, even if it is now happening at a slower pace".

EuropeActive’s Horizon 2025

One of the highlights of the EHFF was EuropeActive President David Stalker introducing EuropeActive’s Horizon 2025 strategic vision for the coming years. In his speech, David Stalker outlined the main headlines of Health, Digital, Community, and Standards. Under these headlines EuropeActive will inform and assists our sector as we move out of the shadow of Covid-19, as well as promote the sector’s longer-term improvement towards our more promising potential.

These will be crucial in achieving the organisation’s “Horizon 2025” goals, but EuropeActive is also “determined to use the current challenging time to inspire to critically rethink our current ways and lead our sector towards a recognised centrally placed position in our communities in the coming years”. This will be a huge challenge but also, “a great endeavour, possibly the greatest collective endeavour of our sector to this day. It will not happen overnight, but gradually over the coming years towards 2025, and with our concerted efforts and creativity I do not doubt that we will get there”. He concluded his intervention with a call for stakeholders' commitment to the Sectoral Manifesto for EuropeActive’s Horizon 2025.

The early afternoon gave way to FitTech Company CEO, Natalia Karbasova, who provided valuable insights on how market newcomers are disrupting the industry and the need for traditional gyms and non-connected hardware suppliers to update their business models to the current scenario. As Karbasova described it, “Covid-19 has significantly changed consumer preferences towards more flexibility, home training and digital community” and therefore, gyms must adapt by “rethinking their Why and offering more differentiated products.”

Operator panel session: Where will you go from here?

Moderator Herman Rutgers led the panel session in which Humphrey Cobbold (PureGym CEO), Cecilie Elde (SATS CFO) and Stefan Tilk (Anytime Fitness Germany CEO) updated the audience on how the last few months have been, what the current state of business is after the impact of Covid-19 and what their thoughts are on the future of the European fitness and physical activity market. They also provided valuable insights on changing demographics in clubs, the role of digital disruptors and intermediaries, digitalisation and the importance of having a strong digital offering.

EuropeActive’s new publication: “Horizon 2030”

Technogym Founder and President Nerio Alessandri and Herman Rutgers officially presented “Horizon 2030”, EuropeActive’s new publication filled with ideas and practical tips for managers on how to deal with the unexpected changes faced by their business(es). With 16 chapters divided into two parts, part 1 covers the fundamental and broad developments for the future, whereas part 2 offers contributions on the operational side for the fitness sector and some best practices and possible growth scenarios towards 2030.

The day culminated with a Q&A session with Basic-Fit International CEO René Moos, hosted by Karsten Hollasch from Deloitte, explaining how operators like Basic-Fit have weathered these unprecedented times through digitalisation investment, data management and control measures to keep people safe in fitness clubs. He also underlined the importance of "investing in industry associations" in order to increase the fitness sector's profile for policy and decision makers.

EuropeActive Ambassador and moderator Herman Rutgers wrapped-up the event by saying that the fitness sector is “a force for good with great protocols, safe places to work out. We are not the problem but a strong part of the solution”. And as for the changes in the industry, he ended on a high note: “We have great entrepreneurs in our sector who will adjust their business models to the changing needs of the new consumer; I trust the new EuropeActive publication “Horizon 2030” will be a great inspiration for this”.

Find out more information about EuropeActive’s new book and publications here:




Oct 1, 2020 By Carlos Fernandez