Consumer protection in Hong Kong

Shock closure of long-running Hong Kong gym amid ‘legal problems’ strands thousands

Members turned away at door of Mong Kok fitness establishment as consumer watchdog receives complaints

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 1:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 10:32pm

Thousands of customers were left in limbo on Tuesday as a long-running Hong Kong gym closed unexpectedly due to “legal problems” while the city’s consumer watchdog received at least 17 complaints.

Members of TF Gym, a well-known establishment in Mong Kok, were caught by surprise in the morning when they were turned away at the door.

A notice had been put up stating the club was plagued by legal issues.

“With legal problems to settle, the centre will suspend service on January 16, 2018, until further notice. The centre will make another announcement as soon as possible. We deeply regret the inconvenience caused,” it read.

No contact information was available.

Staff members were seen inside the gym on Tuesday afternoon, but they ignored requests to comment and did not answer the phone, which kept ringing.

Maybe they wanted to get more money then take off
TF Gym member surnamed Tse

A gym member who gave his surname as Tse was among those seeking compensation.

“Initially I had intended to join a one-year plan for HK$5,000 (US$639), but the staff recommended the longer membership … maybe they wanted to get more money then take off,” he said, noting he had signed a three-year contract for HK$7,000.

The gym was still offering a half-price promotion to attract new clients during the Christmas and New Year holidays, some members said.

TF Gym had a reputation in the industry for its no-frills memberships. Clients were never coerced into signing up for personal training courses.

It is believed that thousands of members could be affected by the closure.

The Consumer Council said it had received 17 complaints and 52 inquiries as of 4pm, and that it was still trying to reach the person in charge of the gym centre.

“The council appealed to the company to explain the cause of closure and arrange refunds as soon as possible,” it said in a statement.

According to its now-defunct website, TF Gym was founded in 1984 and moved to its current venue, Park-In Commercial Centre on Dundas Street, in 2001.

The gym occupied nearly 30,000 sq ft of floor space, with state-of-the-art facilities worth about HK$10 million (US$1.28 million), the website claimed.

Its Facebook page, which had 6,820 likes, is also down. The last post was made one week ago.

This is not the first time a major gym in Hong Kong has closed without notice.

The most notable case was that of California Fitness, which shut down its 12 outlets in July 2016, affecting more than 60,000 members.

Watch: How to get completely immersed in your gym routine

The incident prompted authorities to crack down on unscrupulous sales practices, particularly those involving the signing of long-term club memberships that left consumers with little protection.

The consumer watchdog received 554 complaints last year relating to recreation and health clubs, compared with 1,667 in 2016 and 577 in 2015.

Customs officials received five complaints as of 5pm Tuesday and pledged to take appropriate enforcement action if the company were found to violate regulations.

“Customs has also proactively approached the management of the concerned fitness centre to look into the matter,” a department spokesman said.

In the first 10 months of last year, customs officials received 225 complaints against dubious sales tactics and services involving the fitness industry, significantly lower than the 1,838 complaints received over the same period in 2016.

Under the Trade Descriptions Ordinance, any trader who knows he or she cannot provide service when receiving payments or fails to provide services as described faces up to five years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of HK$500,000.