Fitness#thinkpiece: Why are gyms so expensive in Abu Dhabi and Dubai?

A monthly gym membership in Dubai sits around US$105.60 (Dh387) — making Dubai the second-most expensive city for gyms in the world.
livehealthy.ae livehealthy.aeJuly 19, 201815 min
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expensive gymsThe Gym, a 10,000-square-foot facility in Dubai's Vision Tower. Photo courtesy The Gym

When it comes to working out, Dubai is one of the most expensive places in the world. There are even statistics to prove it.

Earlier this year, Deutsche Bank compared the costs of living in different cities, looking at numerous factors. What it found was, well, intense. A monthly gym membership in Dubai sits around $105.60 (Dh387) a month – making Dubai the second-most expensive city for gyms in the world.

Only Tokyo, at a wallet-busting $127.20, was more costly.

Just a few weeks ago, Symmetry Gym in Dubai sent out an official announcement: “Millionaires know the value of their time and money. [Here] neither of those is ever wasted.” That’s because, the announcement continued, Symmetry Gym is the most expensive gym in Dubai – and, they added, the most experienced. A monthly membership starts at Dh4,095.

expensive gyms
Photo Jump Nation

So what explains the expensive cost of gym memberships in Dubai and Abu Dhabi? Why is it that a fitness class here can easily make your wallet Dh120 or Dh200 lighter – not to mention monthly memberships to yoga and pilates studios and CrossFit boxes that can run Dh1,000 and higher – and we’re so used to it we don’t bat an eye?  

To understand gym pricing, Thais Kelly, relationship manager for GuavaPass Dubai, says we must consider three things: location, activity and commitment. GuavaPass is an app that offers users the chance to book any number of classes in various spots around the UAE for a set monthly fee. Kelly has seen first-hand how gym and studio costs vary around the region.

There are definitely trends, she notes. “While a yoga class might cost Dh100 in the Marina [in Dubai], it can cost as little as Dh50 in Karama or Deira.” Activities also have their own average price brackets. “Yoga sits around Dh100, on average; Pilates Reformer at about Dh200; and martial arts around Dh80.” This shoots up when you go more specialized, such as aerial silks. But the moment members are willing to sign on to longer contracts? Prices drops, says Kelly. The problem is, in the UAE, a place that’s particularly transient due to its large expatriate work force, contracts are not necessarily so popular.

The trends are fascinating, but they don’t necessarily explain the cost of gyms. To understand this, we spoke to Natasha Rudatsenko, founder of Dryp, a hot-yoga studio in Dubai Marina. Rudatsenko has been in the industry for some while, having previously also founded Dubai’s Rawr Yoga.

“Obviously, rent is the biggest expense for any gym or yoga studio,” she notes. But then there are dozens of additional costs.

Look at something as mundane as parking. “Parking isn’t easy in Dubai,” she says. “Many businesses need to make a deal with the community or landlord [to arrange for parking], which often costs a fee. But it can make or break the business, so owners agree to pay.” She’s opted for valet parking at Dryp.

Or look at instructors, Rudatsenko continues. Getting high-quality trainers can often drive up the cost of operating a gym, and in turn the cost of membership.

Rudatsenko has experienced this first-hand. When she launched her first UAE business, Rawr Yoga, Bikram teachers were rare. “We had to bring over five full-time teachers and provide accommodation,” she says. Again, the cost to the gym goes up.

Something as simple as towels can cost a business Dh10,000 per month. “Most gyms don’t have their own laundry facility, and people may use three towels in a visit, which translate into a Dh20 laundry bill for one person for one class,” she says.

“Most customers don’t realize all the hidden costs.” Once they do, pricing starts to make more sense, Rudatsenko insists.

expensive gyms
A Les Mills class in Dubai. Photo Les Mills

For some studios, membership fees aren’t just about covering necessary costs – they can used to create a sense of exclusivity. This often goes hand-in-hand with complimentary services, luxurious facilities and other decadent flourishes.

The Gym in Vision Tower is all about its premium offering. This high-end venue stretches across 10,000 square feet, has its own hyper-trendy Muscle Bar cafe and sparkles inside like the Burj Al Arab. In the bathroom, full-sized perfume bottles sit beside plush towels. Even the parking spaces have gold-plated plaques. And membership packages? They start around Dh1,300 a month.

“We have all the equipment you’d find in a mass/body building gym,” says Maxine Russell, managing partner. “But we also prioritize luxury. This is reflected in our pricing.”

“However,” Russell is quick to add, “I don’t feel we are even close to being one of the most expensive gyms in Dubai.” She points to the added services that come with a membership: eating plans, assessments, training programs and more personalized attention due to a limit on the number of members.

Dubai is a very competitive market, continues Russell. This drives up pricing, as there’s pressure to offer something unique to clients.

“If you want to train in a gym which is considered luxury, then you need to expect to pay a bit more. End of the day, it all comes down to personal preference.”

With its Dh4,000-plus monthly fee, Symmetry Gym sits comfortably on top end of the scale of ultra-pricy Dubai gyms. With this, members get three sessions per week of personal training, 24/7 access to an assigned coach, measurements, pictures, a Facebook group and more. There’s even a 30-day money-back guarantee.

At the other end of the scale, places such as The Gym and Symmetry are deliberately affordable options. The brand-new GymNation costs as little as Dh199 per month.

GymNation is Dubai’s newest affordable gym option. Photo GymNation

GymNation swings as far away from boutique as possible. This 24/7 gym stretches across 45,000 square feet, making it one of the largest gyms in Dubai. It has three studios, runs 200 classes a month and has its own Kcal cafe.

“The success of our pre-sale has validated what we believed to be a real gap in the market for an affordable fitness concept,” says Loren Holland, founder of GymNation. Just look at the numbers, suggests Frank Afeaki, another GymNation founder. If the average Dubai gym membership is $119, GymNation will cost 50 percent less than the majority of local spots.

Photo GymNation

And perhaps at the very lowest end of cheap are the numerous free outdoor workout spaces cleverly placed around Dubai and Abu Dhabi, ranging from the circuits gym at Skydive Dubai to the jogging paths along the capital’s Corniche. While the region’s brutal summer heat makes these spots less enjoyable during certain months, it’s by no means impossible to use them.

Yet perhaps the question isn’t so much how costly or cheap something is, suggests TJ Gray, general manager of Bare in Dubai. This boutique fitness studio coaches people through high-intensity workouts. A class has a maximum of 40 people, meaning it feels intimate – and, with the music pumping, quite deliciously brutal.

“My advice for someone looking to save money on a gym is this: don’t,” says Gray.

“The fitness market is hugely saturated. You need to find somewhere you actually enjoy going to, and where they actually give you everything you need to make changes in your lifestyle,” he adds.

“If that place ends up costing you more than a traditional gym, then it’s a price worth paying.”

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