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Facilitating Human Connection: The Key to Post-Pandemic Recovery

Facilitating Human Connection

For community recreation centers, facilitating human connection is the key to post-pandemic recovery.

Although most people in the community recreation industry have shifted to talking about COVID-19 in the past tense, we know the pandemic has left a lasting impact in the way individuals choose to engage in wellness activities. Now more than ever, there are many ways for people to stay active and burn calories. But, as the dust from the pandemic begins to settle, one thing has become increasingly clear: people are seeking human connection.

Fitness centers across the country are seeing a resurgence in membership over the past 13 months. Vaccine availability and reduction in COVID-19 restrictions have undoubtedly played a factor in the recovery of the gym and health club sector, a sector many regarded to be a potential casualty of the pandemic. With so many virtual options and in-home exercise solutions available, what game-changing concept are gyms utilizing to win back their members? A concept most took for granted prior to 2020, the ability to bring people together.

Leading membership recovery for various YMCAs since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been in constant contact with industry leaders across the country. This included researching and understanding the efforts everyone is taking to gain their members back and boost membership sales. While COVID-19 restrictions vary greatly among states even today, many reported group exercise classes, food/blood drives, group sports, and outdoor social activities as their drivers in bringing people back to the gyms. Working through the restrictions to find ways to bring people together has paid off for many community centers and fitness clubs.

Prioritizing member engagement and human connection should be the focus of the COVID-19 re-emergence strategy for the community recreation sector. This is the edge we’ve had all along, but not always used to our advantage. Replacing and purchasing new equipment is important, but that’s not necessarily what will bring membership back. It’s not a new group exercise class that members are seeking. It’s the longing of being surrounded by other sweaty individuals seeking to close their exercise rings. It’s not the taste of free coffee in the lobby they missed this whole time. It’s the conversations they get to have with someone they haven’t seen in two years.

The experience and connections our staff and collective membership create by facilitating human connection can ultimately be the defining factor in what will allow us to fully recover from the pandemic.

Santiago Prada

Santiago Prada is the senior executive of membership and wellness for the YMCA of the Virginia Peninsulas. He has worked in the health and fitness industry since 2006 and has worked for various YMCAs and health clubs across the country. He is an ACE certified personal trainer and graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in mass communications.

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