Virgin Active to bulk up in size in Asia and Africa

Kasmira Jefford
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Virgin Active is planning to launch more tech-focussed gyms, with one planned for the City
Virgin Active, one of the world’s largest gym chains, said yesterday it will step up growth in Asia and Africa, and embark on a complete overhaul of its online platform this year following, its acquisition by South African billionaire Christo Wiese.

The fitness group was on course for a listing on the Johannesburg stock market before Wiese’s firm Brait made a swoop for the business, acquiring an 80 per cent stake for £682m in April.

The deal, which will leave Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group with a 20 per cent stake, is expected to complete this summer and is subject to approval by the South African and Namibian competition authorities.

In a trading statement released yesterday for the year to 31 December, the chain said underlying earnings jumped 13 per cent to £124m, driven by growth across all of its territories, with revenue up four per cent to £638.6m.

In Europe, where Virgin Active has 146 clubs, including 101 in the UK, underlying earnings grew by 17 per cent. Sales, however, were flat after it offloaded 12 non-core clubs.

Revenue and underlying earnings across Virgin’s 114 clubs in South Africa and Namibia rose 12 per cent.

Virgin spent £82.2m last year on revamping existing sites and launching 11 sites including its first in Thailand.

The group said it will step up its expansion by launching in new territories including Kenya, with more sites also due to open in Namibia, Singapore and Bangkok over the next 12 months.

It is also overhauling its digital operations so that gym-goers can track their fitness progress and follow workout regimes online. It will launch its first “tech-focussed” gym at Cannon Street in the City in the next few months.

Chief executive, Paul Woolf, said: “As consumers the world over seek out ways to improve and maintain their health and wellness levels, I am confident that 2015 will be another year of growth for Virgin Active.”

“With the backing of two long-term supportive shareholders, Brait and Virgin Group, continued investment in our brand, a solid pipeline of new clubs, and a talented team, we are well placed to achieve our ambitious goals for the future,” he added.

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