The worldwide fitness trend has spurred a boom in booking platforms for sports activities and facilities.
These all-in-one sports services offer a wide variety of locations and schedule choices, giving flexibility and convenience to its users while helping trainers, gyms and other sports facilities find new customers.
In Hong Kong, homegrown startup Appysport has launched a sports booking platform that offers over 100 sports services and activities from tennis to kiteboarding, from kayak rentals and stand-up paddle lessons to yoga to HIIT (high-intensity interval training).
“Compared with other sports and fitness platforms, Appysport offers a diversified, wide-ranging selection of sports for users to choose from, rather than focusing on fitness classes,” said Kelly Chan, co-chief executive of Appysport.
“For now, the most popular classes on our platform are water sports, but we also have other sports like tennis and will launch cycling, hiking, camping, and swimming, among others, in the next few months.”
There are no subscription or membership fees required. Appysport allows users to pay for sports classes and activities each time they book. For now, sports activities on the platform are priced around HK$100, or generally cheaper than what users have to pay if they directly purchase from sports service providers.
Appysport has invited sports-related businesses to join the platform as partners, including domestic sports centers, freelance coaches, and small and family-owned sports and equipment providers. Appysport only charges service providers after a user has completed a purchase. It takes a cut of about 20 to 40 percent from the user’s payment.
There are now about 14,000 people in Appysport’s online community, including 1,500 subscribed users on the platform. Among the subscribers, water sports classes are the most popular. These include stand-up paddle rental experience, kayak certification classes, and kiteboarding lessons.
Repeat customers account for 30 percent of the current user base, Chan said.
For now, taking a cut from the users’ payments is the only source of income for Appysport. But Chan said the platform wants to explore new sources of revenue, including event sponsorships.
Like other platform companies, such as e-commerce giant Alibaba and logistics platform GoGoVan, Appysport is less focused on meeting profitability targets than on enlarging its user base, enhancing user loyalty, and understanding user hobbies and habits.
The platform is not making a profit for now, and “we will use any profit to mainly invest and expand our business”, said Chan.
That also explains why Appysport is not interested in collecting subscription or booking fees at the moment, while other sports booking platforms require consumers to pay a monthly fee to gain access to facilities and fitness centers.
Chan said she doesn’t want the platform to move towards a subscription model and sees to it that there are no fixed contracts or prepaid membership fees.
“Of course, many platforms want to build a subscription model. Just like in a beauty service company, you can quickly build up the cash flow, but this business model is only beneficial to the company, not to the user,” said Chan.
“Companies want to enlarge their loyal customer base, but many users now feel they are tied to subscription or membership fee schemes.
“We don’t want to do this. We want the user to really enjoy the sports activities after paying. If you don’t enjoy it, we do care about the reason because we hope to bring about a real transformation in the market, we don’t want to sell our sports courses as much as possible and ignore the actual user experience.”
Appysport has invested “several millions of Hong Kong dollars” in building the platform, said Chan.
Its major investor and shareholder, sports retailing giant Decathlon, shares Appysport’s objective, which is to facilitate the practice of sports in Hong Kong and to have a social impact on people’s lives by making it easier for everyone to practice all kinds of sports.
Established in France back in 1976, Decathlon is one of the largest sporting goods retailers in the world, with over 1,500 stores in 49 countries. It arrived in Hong Kong in 2013 and launched three large superstores in the city.
Chan said Appysport has partnered with Decathlon to launch water sports activities this year: Appysport provides the platform for promotion and recruitment while Decathlon rents out its appliances and facilities to Appysport users for the events.
“We expect to continue this type of collaboration in upcoming activities in the year, which can be extended to other types of sports such as cycling and hiking in the future,” she said.
Leveraging on Decathlon’s international exposure, as well as its global retail and business network, Appysport plans to expand to Asian markets beyond Hong Kong.
“We expect to enter an Asian market next year, and we may set foot in more than one Asian market,” said Chan. “It will likely be developed cities whose market landscape is similar to that of Hong Kong, but we may not launch in the mainland China market.”
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