Khaleej Times - November 2018

Time for Dubai to Switch to fitness and well-being

Sanjiv Purushotham

November 13, 2018

SwitchDXB is a curated marketplace for fitness, leisure and wellness activities.

HI-TRAC: The author's shorthand for Happiness Index, Infrastructure, Talent, Regulations, Access and Capital. The six pillars that make UAE a great place for a startup. This week's article is about Happiness.

By the time this article is published, we would be well into the 2018 30x30 Dubai Fitness Challenge. The Dubai Fitness Challenge started in 2017 as a citywide initiative of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council. With one goal in mind, the challenge encourages every resident and visitor in the city to exercise continuously for at least 30 minutes for 30 consecutive days, turning Dubai into the most active city in the world.

Wellness is a massive industry. According to the Global Wellness Institute, its revenues were close to $3.7 trillion in 2015. The size is not surprising. When we greet someone, it usually includes 'How are you?'. Wishing someone health and happiness is a common courtesy, deeply embedded across cultures. We are now just about beginning to understand the strong correlation between fitness and mind-body well-being. As society becomes more affluent and human longevity increases, this industry can only grow in size.

Speaking about this, Gary Blowers, co-founder and chief executive officer of SwitchDXB, said: "We didn't start off solely with the intention of tapping into the UAE's $380 million exercise market or its $2.7 billion well-being market. We, the founders, knew there was a rich supply of great services spread across the city, but in most cases, they were not accessible. The process to either call them up or search their websites or even physically visit just to book was just not effective. What motivated us truly is that this scenario really does not reflect Dubai - a city that embraces technology, a place that has an increasingly health-conscious population and most importantly an abundance of exciting services and activities."

Dilesh Bhimjiani, co-founder and chief growth officer, described the company as, "SwitchDXB is a curated marketplace that provides instant booking for the city's best fitness, leisure and wellness activities on-demand. The platform features more than 500 of Dubai's most exciting activities and experiences, along with some of the best experts and coaches. Users can pick from a diverse selection, which ranges from the Smash Room to hot air ballooning, from yacht yoga classes to private boxing session. We launched our iOS app in February 2018 and more recently our Android version."

A third constituent of the marketplace is the relatively untapped corporate wellness segment. The 'Health and wellbeing in the Mena' poll, conducted with over 9,000 respondents in the region, disclosed a variety of insights about lifestyles of professionals and how employers can elicit a healthy change in the workplace. According to the poll, a great majority (93.2 per cent) of respondents believe it is the employer's responsibility to promote health and wellbeing at work. In fact, nearly 7 in 10 respondents place greater value on health insurance compared to a higher salary.

Honing in on this, the SwitchDXB founders claimed: "This is exactly where we to step in and tap into a large pool of companies that would like to offer their employees alternatives to simple and dreary gym memberships. The Switch corporate plans are credit-based, meaning each employee has a set amount of credit, which he can spend on any fitness, wellness or leisure activity he wishes, while the employer can manage, monitor and streamline employee wellness initiatives."

Speaking about their company's expansion plans, the health-and-fitness oriented founders said: "In September, we closed our seed funding round, which, together with 2 strategic investments, exceeded the $1.5 million mark. The investment will accelerate the build of our technology platform for both users and service providers, along with the development of a ground-breaking platform for corporate wellness. We are also already looking at building a provider network in Singapore and Hong Kong."

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Michelle Blowers