Perspective – Bryan O’Rourke

Perspective features the opinions of prominent people in the fitness industry. Here, Bryan O'Rourke, technologist and fitness industry expert, voices his belief that unprecedented rates of technological advances and shifts in generational and global economies will radically change the way our industry operates in the near future.

No matter the industry; be it publishing, entertainment, energy or fitness, demographics, advancing technologies and globalism are turning business models on their heads. I believe that the fitness industry is on the brink of a golden age – one involving tremendous change wrought with risk for those unable to see what's coming and opportunity for forward-looking professionals who do. Consider the following points.

You will be familiar with Generation Y, those born between 1980 and 2000. Did you know this will be the most significant spending group in Australia by 2015? The power of friends, fans and followers – the 'F-Factor' – is a good example of a Gen Y trend: decision making among this demographic is greatly influenced by social media recommendations. Gen Y individuals are also motivated by factors such as authenticity, ecological awareness and dynamic pricing. These increasingly influential consumers are going to impact the fitness industry by expecting and demanding a variety of new delivery methods and features which will fuel a booming period of innovation.

Enter the evolution of technology. More powerful by far than personal computers of the early 1990s, smartphones provide almost constant internet connectivity and are in close proximity to their users 24 hours a day. The first iPhones were sold in Australia less than four years ago, yet by the end of 2012 more than 70 per cent of Australian adults will be using smartphone devices. Mobile 'apps' are enabling new payment methods, advertising and tools for all types of uses. Health and fitness, the largest segment of mobile apps available today, will fuel a rise in 'DIY health' whereby intelligent devices monitor everyone from athletes to diabetics, creating a plethora of data and intelligent applications.

The seamless integration of the physical and digital worlds will enable savvy businesses to deliver new levels of customer experience. The convergence of social, GPS, and mobility (SoLoMo) technologies will enable brands to engage consumer communities in more personalised and relevant ways. Such technologies will impact education and training, changing the way fitness professionals teach and learn – and this is just the start of a rapid mainstreaming of technologies that will revolutionise the delivery of fitness and health.

Intertwined with shifting demographics and evolving technologies is an emerging global economy. It is not that the West is in decline, so much as that the rest of the world is rising and the Asia Pacific and Australian regions are positioned to greatly benefit from this. The BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China will overtake the G7 economies in a little over a decade, and the elevation of hundreds of millions into the middle class will create huge opportunities for fitness in these markets. Products and services created from, or in, emerging markets will compete with Western counterparts leading to enhanced creativity and innovation. A large share of growth will occur in global urban areas, resulting in more influence from 'Citysumers' seeking fitness products and services suited to their unique lifestyles. Offering solitude and escape from hectic urban lives, yoga studios and spas are good examples of such product offerings. But countless more exciting growth prospects exist, largely centered in these new economies, providing the opportunity for fitness to transform into an increasingly diverse industry.

Given all of this change, what are leaders in the fitness industry to do? First, we must accept that this rapid change is upon us. Don't ignore it. Secondly, we must accept the challenge to reach new customers in genuinely innovative ways. There is no doubt the convergence of technological advances, changing demographics and an emerging global economy will remodel the health and fitness industries.

It is up to us to seize the opportunity presented by the approaching golden age and to avoid becoming victims of digital Darwinism, because when it comes to change, as the song says 'you ain't seen nothing yet'.


Bryan O'Rourke
Bryan is a health club and fitness industry expert, technologist, financier, and executive. He advises a number of global fitness brands, serves on the Gold's Gym Franchise Association's Think Tank, is an acknowledged IHRSA industry expert and a partner in Fitmarc, Integerus and the Flywheel Group. Learn more at where you can obtain his free report '12 Interesting Trends That Health & Fitness Leaders Should Be Closely Watching'.