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To consider the leisure industry, a consumer could be forgiven for confining their thoughts to the centres which are not only associated with leisure but which are named accordingly – with Health and Leisure centres leading the market on the provision of leisure as a consumer activity. Of course, across most areas, health and leisure centres are essentially gyms which also offer swimming pools and other sporting and community-based activities, creating a space which is dedicated to active health and sport. However, the leisure industry expands far beyond the provision of a few pieces of gym equipment and a swimming pool – branching into the world of hospitality, recreation, sports and tourism to name but a few subsections of the complete industry.
The leisure industry is one where the profit and income of various organisations and companies within the industry rely almost entirely on consumers’ ability to channel their own disposable income into activities that are grouped under the ‘Leisure’ umbrella. The beauty of the leisure industry is that as a whole it is all-encompassing and includes a wide variety of activities which are suitable for all ages and demographics – though under that umbrella exist a whole host of subsections which all operate as their own independent services and industries: for example the sporting events industry, the theatre and live entertainment industry, and the hospitality and food industry.
For consumers, this variety means that not only are there multiple areas of the leisure industry for them to get involved in, but it also means that under every subsection there exists a wider range of providers and organisations which are committed to delivering high end and innovative experiences – creating tailored packages for different budgetary levels across sporting events and theatre ticket deals, offering multi-buy discounts across hospitality offerings and concert tickets, and rewarding loyal customers with benefits which create partnerships tying the leisure industry to other industries and sectors.
The evolution of the leisure industry
When it comes to understanding the evolution of the leisure industry, one of the first things to note is the way that it is so intrinsically linked with tourism – with many leisure provisions being designed to entice tourists towards certain areas and destinations; promising varying experiences which appeal both to tourists and to their own locals. What this requires is a balance between understanding the local audience and the tourist market, with some of the most successful leisure services and offerings being those which appeal to a wide audience regardless of cultural background and language barriers.
Looking back at the history of leisure, it is interesting to note just how much of an influence leisure and entertainment has had on humankind over not just the past few years, but the last few decades and even centuries. Gambling plays a big part in the leisure industry, and has long been responsible for promoting engagement across the leisure industry as a whole – with gambling in various forms dating back to the days of Ancient Rome when chariot races and jousting tournaments were a firm fixture in community gatherings and when the wealthiest individuals in a town would back their own racers or fighters to win – often fighting to the death before a match was declared over.
Likewise, interaction and crowd engagement also played a huge part in spurring these kinds of activities forward, with the top fighters and racers being regarded as heroes in their local communities due primarily to the amount of gambling winnings that they brought in, and the honour they brought to their town or household.
Throughout history, when dark times have threatened to prevail and overcome community spirit, leisure has been one of the main focusses in developing the tourist and recreation industry – and giving communities and workers a focus on how to spend their time once the working day was over. The Industrial Revolution was a pinnacle period for the growth of the leisure industry because it was the first time in history that workers were given some form of structure to their day. The creation and evolution of factories and machines within those factories meant that workers had structure to their days – and thus time outside of work to spend time doing what they wanted to do.
From there, the history and development of the leisure industry became a response to the demands of consumers – with workers in the 20th century demanding shorter working days and more pay; creating a distinct separation between the world of work and the leisure industry which they utilised and enjoyed on their days off.
Exploring the leisure industry and what it includes
Today, the leisure industry is an important part of modern life, and is essentially formed from the demand of consumers who were looking for something to do with the spare time that they had as a result of working days becoming less all-consuming and more structured.
By definition, this is an industry which refers to and includes anything which can be enjoyed and used to occupy free hours outside of work – including both activities which are made from spectator sports and the watching of organised events, and the partaking in various activities and events.
Some of the most popular forms of leisure activity as defined under the umbrella industry include:
- Sporting events
- Sporting activities, such as swimming and going to the gym
- Community activities, such as bowling and golf
- Entertainment leisure, for example live theatre shows and cinemas
- Holiday resorts and their activities
The final type of leisure sector on the list – holiday resorts and their activities – taps into the need that people have when they go on holiday to relax. In these instances, the leisure industry is made up of the things that people can do to enjoy their time off, with some of the most successful brands and retailers in the leisure industry capitalising on the profits which can be made by offering a wide variety of activities that appeal to different demographics under one company name. A great example of this in action is Disneyland and the Disney World resorts in Florida, which utilise the pull of their leisure resorts on a global scale, and which appeal to different age categories with the classic theme park set up alongside other leisure activities like golf courses and swimming pools, shopping districts and spas, and a variety of different hospitality and dining options. By offering as much as they can under one company name, the profits that they bring in-house through the provision of all these different leisure activities are huge.
And the leisure industry doesn’t just deal with the direct link between an activity and a consumer. It also deals with the provisions and activities which are going on behind the scenes – a prime example being the gambling which props up the sporting event industry and has expanded to turn a wide variety of major events and occurrences into betting sports, including the gender and then name of the latest royal baby in the UK. These leisure activities are more targeted in their demographic and intended audience, however they serve to widen the engagement of consumers with events and leisure sports by allowing different kinds of consumers to interact in different ways – whether they choose to watch a sporting event live, on television, in their own home, in the pub, or in a betting shop. All of these different locations and situations serve different areas of the same industry – all leaning on the leisure industry both for the entertainment and the setting.
Big names and brands in the leisure industry
One of the most expansive brands in the leisure industry is of course the Walt Disney Company, primarily because of the breadth of offerings and products that it presents to the broadest spectrum of consumers. What the Disney company and all its parks and retail offerings present is an opportunity for consumers of different ages and different demographics to engage with the sole purpose of the company – to entertain and to make magic – in their own preferred way. This may seem like a decision made by the company for the good of its consumers, however at the very heart of the Disney company lies a decision to widen the company offering in order to cover as many leisure branches as possible and thus keep as many captive consumers on site as possible to capitalise on and increase profits and sales.
But it’s not all tailored to children. In fact one of the biggest trends which is helping the sector to grow in the modern age is the innovative ways in which retailers and companies are finding new ways of engaging adults in fun leisure activities – for example the rise in popularity of golf bars and other activities which pool together leisure sports and activities with drinking and create unique and memorable experiences for consumers.
To look at the top brands and names in the leisure industry is to understand that every company exists to provide its own leisure activity to its own audience. Some of the biggest names across a broad demographic audience, with the highest growth rates and the widest provision of leisure activities, include:
- Camp America
- Center Parks
- Fitness First
- Merlin Entertainments
- TUI UK
As consumers will notice, the top brands in the industry actually come from a broad range of sectors under the Leisure umbrella – meaning that the demand of different consumers pushes different brands and retail names to the top of the list.
Trends in the leisure industry
One of the biggest trends in the leisure industry is the rise in prominence of leisure within the corporate world, elevating corporate events and providing companies with various opportunities for entertaining their clients. For many, it is during corporate leisure experiences that some of the most lucrative deals are done, blurring the lines between business and pleasure, and allowing companies to find ways of bringing in new client partnerships. Top examples of the corporate sector overlapping with the leisure industry include the use of corporate memberships at golf clubs and fitness centres allowing businesses to make deals on the golf course and in the spa; and across the sporting events and live concert sectors where corporate businesses can buy and rent boxes on annual passes and then use them over the course of a year to entertain various clients, rent out or gift the box to potential clients, and in many cases donate certain events in the box to charity auctions.
Another trend which is making waves in the growth and development of new sectors within the leisure industry is the expansion of global awareness and the way in which different cultures are impacting the ways in which different countries approach leisure and entertainment. One good example of this is the rise in gambling and the widening of gambling across more sports and entertainment sectors, as well as the wide range of different leisure activities and hobbies that have arrived in the UK as a result of global understanding and the popularity of different experiences which consumers bring back home with them. This is particularly prominent in the food and drink hospitality sector.
Alongside this rise in cultural experiences and leisure provisions influenced by various destinations, there lies the impact of tourism on the leisure industry as a whole. In 2020 when the travel and tourism was put on hold in light of the pandemic which hit humanity on a global scale, the lack of tourists led to a huge dip in the call for leisure activities as potential consumer stopped visiting popular destinations and various live activities were cancelled. Thus it is becoming increasingly important for leisure companies and brands to find ways of creating a demand both across the tourist market and the local market – whether it be offering local discounts, benefits or even loyalty points to those who live locally and engage in the activity regularly.
On the whole, the leisure industry is one which is constantly subject to changes and shifts as times goes on; with attitudes towards free time and working time changing, and with the lines between work and play consistently being blurred by both big corporations and smaller businesses. For those consumers seeking a deal, the beauty of the leisure industry is that the breadth of offerings means there will always be something for every budget and every demographic – it is simply a case of finding it.