2021 – A year from hell, or a year to excel?
For some, 2021 was their time to shine. For many others, however, 2021 was about survival. Research shows us that lockdowns hit rates of participation in physical activity hard, but that they do rebound, if not necessarily back to the same activities. Here lies a huge opportunity for our industry in 2022.
Recently we hosted ExerciseNZ’s annual EXNZ Awards, in which we recognised those that have excelled in 2021 – both individuals and facilities – across the range of roles and communities we serve.
In preparing for these awards, I was reminded that, for some, 2021 was their time to shine. For many others, however, 2021 was about survival – especially for those in Auckland during the latest lockdown, which ranks as the seventh longest globally (not an award anyone wants to win – and just for the record, it goes to Melbourne).
While 2021 was certainly challenging, we do end somewhat on a high, with New Zealand having just moved into its next phase of COVID-19 response, with a new traffic light system that, with the notable exception of the addition of CVCs (Compulsory Vaccination Certificates), our industry has almost no restrictions/extra rules at orange, and relatively minimal restrictions at red. Perhaps most importantly, we can be open at all levels, and long lockdowns are likely to be far less common. We did the hard work with the government and multiple government agencies, showing them that with the right protocols in place exercise can be safe, and the end result of this is a new system that is more permissive, with fewer restrictions than other comparable industries.
With this noted, one thing we have all learnt over the past two years is that making any assumptions about the future is a risky game – so while we’ll take the wins where we can, the collective view seems to be ‘make hay while the sun shines’ as it’s impossible to be certain about what 2022 may deliver.
We also enter 2022 with a huge opportunity. Research shows us that lockdowns hit participation rates of physical activity hard, but they do rebound, if not necessarily back to the same activities. So, here lies a huge opportunity for our industry to be the provider of the safe, consistently delivered product/service that meets the needs of the market. There will be winners and losers in this space for sure, but the opportunity is there. Moreover, the awareness of the benefits of exercise is at an all-time high – our own consumer research shows that mental health has moved from 9% awareness in 2019 to 63% in 2021, and as a ‘reason to exercise’ now ranks #1 (with ‘health’ as #2). This is a massive change from only five years ago, when various iterations of weight loss/body transformation consistently filled the top five.
So, as we leave 2021 behind (and good riddance I’m sure many would say), we have entered a time in which many of us are spending time with family/whanau over the summer. This is a reminder of the power of human connection, as well as our individual and collective need for it. As an industry, we feed off human connection (which may well be why so many struggled with ‘going virtual’), but we also provide it to our clients and members. Never underestimate the power that a genuine smile or, better still, a few words of encouragement, support and acknowledgement can play in the lives of those that choose to exercise with us. We can be a massive part of the solution in the new way of operating – delivering on all the mental, physical and social benefits of exercise. It’s our time to shine.
Kia kaha Aotearoa!