Lifestyle membership apps
With today's membership apps, subscribers can access the swimming pool of their choice and not be tied down to one. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Dubai: Don’t feel like signing up to be a member of any one gym? Then ‘subscribe’ to many… and at rates lower than a single gym membership. 

Subscription apps now offer that choice to UAE residents, allowing them to pick and choose among a large list of leisure and entertainment options. The X by OJ Lifestyle is the latest to join the band of apps, which also includes Privilee, Classpass and Entertainer. 

See More

And these apps are tapping into a changing mindset among residents - rather than be tied down to any one beach club, gym or salon, they prefer to be ‘free agents’. So they pay a flat fee via the app and enjoy the perks from varying providers. 

Privilee, for example, is one such membership app. Members who sign up get unlimited day passes to a number of Dubai's beach, pool and gym venues each day of the week.

“We’ve seen consistent growth over the past five years - we started off with eight hotels and a handful of members in Dubai,” said Lars Johannesen CEO and Founder of Privilee. Today, the app allows access to over 60 luxury resorts, 31 beaches and over 1,000 fitness classes across the emirates. 

Not sticking to one

“Over the past few months and with most people staying in the UAE due to the pandemic, we noticed that members are exploring a larger variety of venues, rather than sticking to the same spots,” said Johannesen.

Of course, if all the listed venues can promise the same level of safety assurance in precautions taken against COVID-19.

“I am generally not someone who likes to sign up for any memberships,” said Sarah Mahmoud, a Dubai resident. “However, when the pandemic prevented summer travel, I signed up to Privilee for Dh1,500. My kids and i went to different five-star hotels four times a week.”

Subtle differences

Although these membership and subscription apps may seem to have a lot in common on the surface, it’s a fact that no two services are exactly the same. And the ongoing downturn is impacting them differently.

While some have focused on acquiring new subscribers through incentives such as discounted membership rates, like Privilee did during the quiet summer months, others focused on retaining them by providing additional services, as Entertainer did by adding more emphasis on delivery options.

Then there was the one who ventured into the space now despite the unpredictable circumstances. Omar Jackson, the app's founder, who launched the “X” by OJ Lifestyle, is going in a different direction. “A lot of membership platforms in the UAE are mostly there to offer discounts or special packages, but we are not tied to those criteria,” he said. “We have fewer brands - but our focus is a higher-end consumer.” 

The rationale is that someone who can afford to utilise the brands that the X app partners with shouldn’t have an issue affording the Dh699 a year membership. “We want to make sure that we capture the right clientele,” Jackson said.

“We market the brands that we consider high quality in terms of service, reputation, and we will focus on generating revenue and awareness for them rather than diluting them across the competition.”

The app promises members access to “offers and experiences”, including events at the Coca Cola Arena and to The Box gym.

No one formula fits all

Dubai gym
The gyms are back in action, but with strict enforcement of COVID-19 protocols. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Like Privilee, Classpass is another one of those “get more for less” apps, but with a focus on gyms and spas. Founded in 2013, ClassPass provides access to a network of fitness and wellness providers.

“Dubai has quickly grown to be one of our Top 30 markets globally by subscriber count - quite the feat considering we operate in more than 3,500 cities,” said Sam Canavan of ClassPass.

“Dubai punches well above its weight and [is] similar in subscriber size to the likes of Hong Kong and the Philippines.”

According to Canavan, the average Dubai user takes three classes per month, and tries an average of six different class genres - so clearly variety is key. Starting from Dh65 a month, the prices of access is quite competitive given that signing up for some of the popular Dubai gyms can cost an average of Dh2,000 a year.

Clearly, annual membership tied to any one service provider is in for some heavy disruption from these apps.

And there are no clear winners as yet...