No excuses now: Hong Kong online fitness passes make exercise easier
Take some of the heavy lifting out of getting fit with services to help you find classes and book them with a few clicks of your mouse
When a friend, frustrated with searching for a Pilates class, approached Rosh Pritmani with her problem, he had the answer.
"Many of the studios didn't have prices or class schedules listed online, and the big-box gyms that offered classes were asking for long-term contracts," says Pritmani. "Searching for a Pilates class was tedious and a pain."
But Pritmani had just come across ClassPass, a highly successful fitness pass start-up from New York that offers access to numerous boutique gyms with a contract-free monthly subscription. Pritmani and two silent partners decided to introduce a similar concept to Hong Kong. Launching on August 3, their start-up is called ClassCruiser.
For HK$899 a month, subscribers can take unlimited classes, including Pilates, yoga, mixed martial arts, indoor cycling, muay thai and dance, at more than 40 boutique studios and gyms across Hong Kong. Class schedules and bookings are online, and soon will be available through a phone app.
"Although the knowledge of the importance of fitness is increasing, the level of physical activity in Hong Kong is still very low. ClassPass in the US has got so many people moving. Sixty per cent of users are new to fitness - they never had a fitness regimen before," says Pritmani, 27, who has a degree in finance and strategy from the University of Southern California.
"We wanted to bring it to Hong Kong because the city really needs it. Our main concern is to get people healthy, happy and off their butts. We want to remove the barriers to fitness, to make fitness easy - just click and show up."
ClassCruiser is not the only ClassPass emulator. In Hong Kong alone, there are at least three others: KFit (launched in April), GuavaPass (launched earlier this month) and Passport Asia (launching in two months). While terms vary slightly among providers, in general the idea is the same: a no-commitment pass that's an alternative to the traditional gym membership.
Joel Neoh, founder of KFit, says this business model "capitalises on the meteoric rise of the sharing economy". It's a concept the Malaysian entrepreneur and technology investor knows well through his previous role as Asia-Pacific head at group buying site Groupon.
"We are bringing the 'fitness-sharing' concept to the region to democratise fitness and help make Asia-Pacific a healthier place," says Neoh, who adds that 96 per cent of Asians currently don't belong to a gym.
ClassPass, the US start-up that has inspired this fitness trend, was launched in June 2013 and now has about 3,000 partner studios in the US. In 2013, it facilitated 50,000 class reservations; in 2014 that number passed one million.
The idea came to founder and CEO Payal Kadakia after she spent an entire afternoon on the internet searching for a ballet class to attend that evening.
In February this year her company took in US$5 million in revenue, up from less than US$200,000 a year ago, according to Kadakia in an article on The Wall Street Journal's Venture Capital Dispatch blog. Consumers reserved 600,000 classes that month.
The concept appeals to both fitness lovers and providers: the former get choice and variety without commitment; the latter get their brand promoted and classes filled.
Linds Russell, founder and head trainer of local outdoor fitness company ApeFit, has partnered with KFit, ClassCruiser and GuavaPass. She says many class attendees have come through KFit.
"Hong Kong is such a dynamic city with people looking for new things to do all the time. These [pass providers] are just great because they can basically offer and market our services without us having to do that," says Russell.
"Because they're already targeting fitness enthusiasts, I know they're reaching the right audience. And I've always been open-minded about people joining multiple gyms; I think people should try different things. The pass is great for that."
ApeFit has 12 hour-long classes a week in six locations on Hong Kong island, with five to 15 people in each class, Russell says. On Saturday mornings there's also ApeYoga at Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park.
For each attendee that comes through a pass provider, she says she's paid a fee by the pass provider. It's less than her regular drop-in price (HK$200), but enough to cover the cost of conducting the session (mainly instructor fees). "It's very early days, but I'm extremely happy [with the partnership]," Russell says. "The ones that have come through the pass have really enjoyed the class and some have said they want to sign up directly with ApeFit."
The fitness pass should appeal to people who seek variety in their regimens, like to try new exercises, and prefer boutique gyms and studios with a more personal touch. But if it's cardio and weight machines you're after, and the flexibility to work out whenever you fancy, then a traditional gym is probably more for you.
With pass prices ranging from HK$499 to HK$899 a month depending on the provider, it's considerably cheaper than traditional gym memberships, which can cost in excess of HK$1,000 and tie you down for 12 to 24 months. If you don't like the pass, you can cancel it anytime.
There are a few things potential subscribers should be aware of: most studios or gyms limit subscribers to three classes per monthly subscription cycle; no-shows or late cancellations will incur a fee; and studios or gyms may open only select classes to subscribers.
Which pass provider should you go for? Each tries to set itself apart from its competitors.
KFit - with seven-figure US-dollar backing from investors from the US, Europe and Asia-Pacific - has the lowest monthly subscription fee of HK$499, with 136 Hong Kong partners so far. In total it has more than 1,000 partners in six Asian cities, with Auckland, Seoul and Manila set to join in the coming weeks.
GuavaPass, founded by Singapore-based Robert Pachter and Jeffrey Liu, costs HK$899 monthly and has more than 50 partners in Hong Kong. Its platform gives you class recommendations based on your location and interests. GuavaPass is also in Singapore and Bangkok, and plans to expand to elsewhere in Southeast Asia, mainland China, Australia and the Middle East.
Passport Asia, another Singapore-based company that's in eight cities, will offer different subscription packages for bundles of five or 10 class slots, or unlimited classes. It's the only provider that's solely mobile app-based.
ClassCruiser, Pritmani says, is different because it's the only home-grown provider. "We're 100 per cent Hong Kong-focused," he says. "The last thing we want is for studios and gyms to close because they haven't been able to fill their classes."
Pass providers in Hong Kong
Number of partners: 40
Number of partners: more than 50
Number of partners: more than 130
Number of partners: unknown