25 Sep 2021 World leisure: news, training & property
 
 
HOME
JOBS
NEWS
FEATURES
PRODUCTS
FREE DIGITAL SUBSCRIPTION
PRINT SUBSCRIPTION
ADVERTISE
CONTACT US
Sign up for FREE ezine

SELECTED ISSUE
Health Club Management
2019 issue 11

View issue contents

Leisure Management - Artificial intelligence

Talking point

Artificial intelligence


When you hear the words ‘artificial intelligence’, do you think of talking computers and helpful androids? Think again. We find out how AI can be used in fitness

Minton says virtual assistants such as Siri and Alexa know nothing about health clubs, gyms or leisure centres PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
With AI, you’re equipped to understand which interactions are likely to have the most impact PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

The AI revolution is ramping up across many industries, although not quite in the way futurists predicted.

Rather than machines that emulate the human mind, the majority of today’s AI technologies consist of sophisticated algorithms that analyse data rapidly to carry out specific tasks. Through machine learning, they can adapt to new situations as they take in more data, making them far more flexible than the more rigid, static programmes of the past.

Our experts explain how AI can be used across the fitness industry, why we should embrace it and the benefits it can bring.

David Minton, Director, LeisureDB
David Minton

Ground-breaking technology such as AI and Machine Learning is way ahead of fitness industry practices, desires and dreams. The main reason being that many fitness sites currently lack the granular data and infrastructure necessary to obtain real AI.

This means our industry is looking through the rear-view mirror at where it’s been, not where it’s going. This is of no use to the consumer and limited use to the operator.

Data remains the industry’s most underutilised asset, yet it’s the foundational element that makes AI so powerful. Unstructured data is difficult to use, which is probably why so few techies develop for fitness compared to other industries.

A lack of granular data has held back Reserve with Google, for example, where the ‘leisure’ market – hotels, restaurants, cinema, beauty and even hair salons – have developed the most integrations so far.

"In 2005 I wrote, ‘if we worked in the pornographic industry, we’d know what a member is, but because we work in the fitness industry, there’s no hard rule, so to speak’ "

My grandchildren love talking to Alexa and Siri, the always-ready, connected, virtual assistants. Yet these ten-year-old twins soon discovered the virtual assistants know nothing about the sports clubs, leisure centres and swimming pools they use.

Back in 2005 I wrote, “if we worked in the pornographic industry, we would all know what a member is, but because we work in the fitness industry there’s no hard rule to follow, so to speak”. For AI to work, there needs to be API access to structured, live granular data. The question of data integrity must be addressed by the industry and it must be totally consumer-focused if we are to take advantage of what AI has to offer.

Bryan O’Rourke
President, The Fitness Industry Technology Council
Bryan O’Rourke

In fitness, AI continues to have the potential to enhance efficiency and improve revenues. Chatbots are increasingly being deployed to engage and simulate personalised human interactions. Fitness apps deploy personalised solutions relying on AI tech as well.

However, the adoption of these tools is not robust at this point and it will be some years before the industry benefits from both machine learning and AI. The reason for this is that most club operators do not have a single source of reliable data, most have not made great strides in executing a digital transformation, and, finally, most do not have a true AI strategy.

To take advantage of AI’s enormous potential, organisations have a long way to go in developing the core practices that enable them to realise that potential value at scale. Most fitness chain operators have not mapped out where, across the organisation, all potential AI opportunities lie, as they have no strategy. Many have not made significant progress on their digital transformation, and do not have single sources of data to enable the adoption of AI at this point.

Until these issues are dealt with, the adoption of AI capabilities will be limited.

Shai Neiger, CEO, CoachAi
Shai Neiger

There’s a lot of buzz about AI – computer programmes designed to mimic or simulate human intelligence.

The concept has been around since the 1950s, but it’s only in the last decade that technology has advanced enough for AI to become a viable tool for use in business.

AI adapts its own design in response to insights derived from real-world data. It also helps us make sense of large quantities of data, to detect patterns, and make decisions based on insight.

It’s one of the tools we use at CoachAi to understand and solve the challenge of behavioural change; which factors influence whether someone will create a lifelong exercise habit or fizzle out after three weeks? When and how should we intervene along the course of their journey? Should we change our approach based on where they live? Whether they’re male or female? Aged 19 or 56?

"AI has the capacity to act autonomously and to adapt over time to reach new heights of performance"

AI is in the spotlight because it represents a new era of efficiency. Unlike the previous generation of technology, which requires constant dashboard monitoring and intervention on the part of operators, AI has the capacity to act autonomously and to adapt over time to reach new heights of performance. As more and more health club operators implement AI solutions, they’ll enjoy reduced staffing and operational costs, while offering smart, personalised member experiences.

In the future, this will become the health and fitness industry standard, even for large-scale operators.

Ian Mullane
Founder and CEO of KeepMe
Ian Mullane

Some organisations within the UK are more hesitant to adopt new technology than our friends across the pond or in Asia, and AI is no exception.

This could be due to a lack of understanding, or a belief that it’s complicated, but the potential benefits for health and fitness operators are huge when it comes to member retention.

AI is not a solution to the challenge of low retention rates, but it can provide operators with a useful level of insight to show where to take action and equip them with the tools to do so at scale.

Right now, many operators don’t have accurate insights into which members are likely to leave and need this, along with a time window to change the outcome. AI can do this at the member level and in doing so, open up a new world of understanding on what drives attrition. Is there a higher risk with a particular membership type, gender or age? Do members that attend a specific group exercise class present less risk than those that don’t, for example?

All of these and more pieces of knowledge are available via AI to help define what actions should be taken.

"AI is not a solution to the challenge of low retention rates, but it can provide operators with a useful level of insight to show where to take action and then equip them with the tools to do so at scale"

Introducing an AI tool enhances the human resources you have, allowing them to target their member interactions to where it will have the most impact.

You know the value that personal interaction plays in retention, but having a worthwhile engagement with every member is not possible. With AI, you’re equipped to understand which interactions are likely to have the most impact, ensuring that however many engagements you have, they will have been with the most appropriate people.

You’re sitting on gold in the form of data, and AI could unlock its secrets. Many European and US operators have already realised this and are reaping the rewards of deployment with impressive increases in retention and operational efficiency.

I hope UK health and fitness operators will quickly see the potential, so we can start to see the necessary improvement in member retention so often desire.


Originally published in Health Club Management 2019 issue 11

Published by Leisure Media Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385 | Contact us | About us | © Cybertrek Ltd