22 Sep 2023 World leisure: news, training & property
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Health Club Management
2023 issue 2

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Leisure Management - Mariia Brezytska


Mariia Brezytska

In the Ukrainian city of Odesa, Formula Wellness & Spa is offering a sense of normality in the face of war. Kate Cracknell talks to the general manager

Mariia Brezytska, Formula Wellness & Spa Photo: Formula wellness and Spa
Photo: Formula wellness and Spa
Photo: Formula wellness and Spa
The club has been designed to appeal to a wide demographic, including families Photo: Formula wellness and Spa
Photo: Formula wellness and Spa
The swimming pool is used for lap swimming, family swimming lessons and special events Photo: Formula wellness and Spa
Photo: Formula wellness and Spa
Photo: Formula wellness and Spa
The overall wellness offering won the Stella International Beauty Award in 2021 Photo: Stella International Beauty Award
Photo: Formula wellness and Spa
Les Mills classes are among those on offer at Formula Photo: Formula wellness and Spa
The club’s spa and wellness offering is extensive Photo: Formula wellness and Spa

Tell us about your club
Formula Wellness & Spa is a large, beautiful club in the heart of Odesa in the south of Ukraine. It’s an interesting building architecturally, as it was a theatre until it opened as a health club and spa in March 2006. It was also the first club of its kind in Odesa, with a wide range of facilities spread over three floors – around 4,500sq m.

We have a 25m swimming pool and a gym, as well as dedicated yoga and Cross Fit studios, two squash courts and a fitness cafe. Alongside this is a separate spa zone with a Turkish steamroom, Finnish sauna and a salt room.

Spa treatments are available, including medi-spa and beauty treatments delivered by doctors.

We also deliver over 30 types of group exercise classes, from dance to Pilates, TRX to aqua and HIIT to indoor cycling.

How popular is the indoor cycling?
It’s fairly new – we introduced it two years ago – but it’s my favourite, because the results are amazing.

Indoor cycling isn’t yet big in Ukraine and it’s unusual for clubs in Odessa to offer it; only one or two have it. Even in Kyiv, only a few offer indoor cycling classes.

At first, our members were unsure: they worried it would be too hard. But then a few tried it and enjoyed it and the word spread.

Before the war, it got to the point that cycling classes were wait-listed. We were proud of that.

Tell us about your members
It’s a family-orientated club and members typically live, work or go to school nearby. The average age of our customer base is around 45, as parents come with their children of varying ages, many of whom go on to become adult members. Membership, including access to all facilities, costs €1,000 a year.

How has the war impacted your club?
It’s brought a lot of changes. When it started, we had to close our club for three months and stop all activities. It was only in June 2022 we decided to slowly start back up, with our swimming pool and spa only re-opening in October. We’re still offering less group exercise at the moment – around 25 per cent of our usual schedule.

Before the war we had 1,500 members and welcomed around 450 people a day. Now we have 1,000 and a maximum of 200 visits a day.

Of those 1,000 members, around 70 per cent were members before the war. The other 30 per cent have either moved over from other local clubs – Odesa might be safer than other parts of the country, but it isn’t 100 per cent safe and many clubs are still closed – or they’re people who’ve relocated to Odesa from hotspots of the war and have moved to our city for its relative safety.

What we’re seeing, though, is that people aren’t committing to annual memberships any more, or even six-month memberships. They’re buying a month, maybe three months at a time – sometimes even just two weeks.

How close to the fighting are you?
Odesa hasn’t been one of the war’s main hotspots so far, but some of our members and team members have gone to the front to fight. It’s impossible to contact them or know where they are – or how they are – but we’re incredibly proud of them and hope they return safely so we can thank them for their bravery.

There have been times when it has been very close, though. On 23 July 2022, rockets attacked the sea port right in the centre of Odessa. It was like a horror film. There were fortunately no victims, but children were crying and people were running everywhere. Our team members couldn’t remember what to do – where to take our members to ensure they were safe – even though we’d built a shelter on the ground floor of the club before we re-opened.

It was the first time any of us had experienced anything like this and people panicked. It was an important lesson in embedding our safety procedures.

Now, I actually feel safer at work than I do at home – ours is a big, strong building with a shelter, which I don’t have at home – but things have still been horrible, as our city has been under drone attack.

Even now, I find it so hard to believe all this is really happening. I feel as though I’m watching a movie, or I wake up in the morning and feel as though it must all have been a bad dream.

Why reopen so soon?
Choosing to start things back up again was the hardest thing we’ve done and we thought about it for a long time before we actually did it.

We didn’t know how many of our members were left in Odesa – when the war came, many of those who had a chance to move out of Ukraine did so – and we didn’t know how willing people would be to spend their money on fitness.

We didn’t know if we’d have enough money to pay our team’s salaries or our utility bills.

Choosing to reopen could have been more damaging to our brand and our business than staying closed until things were more stable.

We also have a smaller team now, as some people have moved away – as I did for a while. I’m a single mother with two children and I was afraid, so I moved to Moldova. However, when we decided to reopen the club, I came back and no matter what happens now, I will stay here with my team. This is my country and I don’t want to be anywhere else.

Our team has been fantastic. The most positive thing to come out of all of this was their response when we told them we were going to reopen. We asked who was ready to work and everyone who was still in Odesa said yes – not one of them asked about salary. They just wanted to know the schedule and how they could help get Formula up and running again. They’ve been so dedicated and have worked so hard to make reopening possible.

Everyone tells me they’ve really missed having a routine, going to work and speaking to colleagues and members. People are working for the pleasure of feeling normal again.

Our members are also telling us they’re so glad we’ve re-opened. People need to do something with their stress and fitness and sport are the best possible things for this.

Will the war change things forever?
I’ve been at Formula Wellness and Spa for 13 years and I can confidently say our club won’t change as a result of the war. We’re confident the business will come back. People need to do familiar things. They need to deal with stress. Our members tell us they’ve missed their fitness and spa treatments. They’ve missed being able to look after themselves.

So for now, we’ll work to build the club back up again, getting memberships and revenues back to how they were before the war. And then, in the second half of 2023, we’ll look to do all the work we had planned for 2022.

We had big plans for 2022, including building a new reformer pilates studio and launching new spa treatments for face and body. That’s all on hold while the unbelievable horror of the war continues, but it is just a pause. We will get back to our plans next year.

What are your hopes for the future?
I always try to think positively, so I look forward to a future – just a couple of years from now – when all our cities have been rebuilt and restored to their former glory. I hope it will be a new era for our country, when Ukrainians return home and we welcome tourists and share our experiences with them.

In the meantime, I simply wish for a peaceful country where I don’t have to worry for my children every time they go to school. My hope and belief is that one more year and we will have peace.

Fast facts
Formula Wellness & Spa

Location: Odesa, Ukraine

Previous life: A theatre

Special feature: Bomb shelter

Established: March 2006

Managed by: Vertex Hotel Group

Accolades: Best Wellness Club, Stella International Beauty Award 2021

Membership: €1,000 a year

Size: 4,500sq m

Fitness facilities: pool, gym, yoga studio, Cross Fit studio, squash courts, fitness cafe, creche

Classes: 30 types, including dance, Les Mills, pilates, TRX, aqua, HIIT and indoor cycling

Spa: Turkish steamroom, Finnish sauna, hydrotherapy, relaxation lounge, spa pools, salt room, spa treatments, medical treatments delivered by doctors

About Vertex Hotel Group
Vertex manages the club / Photo: Formula wellness and Spa

Vertex operates in three main markets, hospitality, wellness and commercial property.

The company’s portfolio includes four hotels, the President Hotel Kyiv and the Bristol Hotel and Spa Bristol, Londonskaya Hotel and Passage Hotel in Odesa.

It’s also moved into the wellness industry, managing premium fitness and wellness club Formula Wellness and Spa in Odesa.

Photo: Formula wellness and Spa

Mariia Brezytska interview courtesy of Ride High magazine and publisher, Uffe A Olesen Find out more at: www.ridehighmagazine.com

Originally published in Health Club Management 2023 issue 2

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