I got the chance to meet Craig Hartley through a mutual friend a few weeks back and over a drink spoke about our mutual interest in sports and fitness. Craig is the Co-Founder of Dubai Muscle Show & Dubai Active Industry, which in 4 years has become the leading health and fitness event in the Middle East.
Coming from a fantastic height of their 2019 event which welcomed 25,000 attendees, Covid-19 has created a bit of uncertainty across social and events business all over the world. The team had to work hard to find a way to keep their event during the key winter season in Dubai.The great news is they have not quit, they’ve worked hard and closely with the Dubai Government to move the event from Dec 5 – 7 and secure a date for the show in Jan 14 - 16.
So enough from me and more from the man himself…
Craig, tell us what made you launch Dubai Muscle Show?
A friend and I had worked together at two previous event organisers, pretty focused on industry B2B events, and we decided we wanted to do our own thing. We both had a passion for sports and fitness and felt that we had enough know-how to launch our own event. Nick had attended a similar event in the UK and had a big interest in bodybuilding, so he knew how popular it would be here. There was a lot of events like this in other regions at the time, and although people had tried them here before, they hadn’t been successful – which created a big challenge for us getting started, as local companies had been promised big things before by organisers who didn’t deliver. But the demand for this kind of event was huge, and the numbers we got in our first year were the top end of our expectations. With over 10,000 visitors, the venue unfortunately, was just too small to hold any more and we had a large number of people who couldn’t get to the event, due to traffic and capacity limits.
What were you guys doing before launching the Show?
I was working on real estate exhibitions, and my business partner, Nick, was working on healthcare events.
So I’m very much into fitness, but to be honest never attended a muscle show. Who is your audience?
Dubai Muscle Show is focused on power sports fans and people who are into all levels of weightlifting and working out. The show’s been massively popular among the bodybuilding community and fans of strongman, combat sports, powerlifting, calisthenics and even pole fitness enthusiasts.
In the last few years we’ve diversified the event with the Dubai Active brand, which is aimed at the wider fitness community, particularly people into group fitness, yoga, holistic health and wellness.
Last year we launched our first dedicated industry day at the show, which has been branded as Dubai Active Industry. This segment of the event is dedicated to fitness and wellness industry professionals.
I’d personally love to see Arnold, but who were you excited to see last year?
Last year was the first time Phil Heath had attended Dubai Muscle Show, so that was really exciting. Kai Greene had been to the event twice before 2019 and always puts on a great show, and Ronnie’s been to every edition and always has one of the longest queues.
But Dubai Active really raised its game last year, and we brought international trainers, Kayla Itsines and Kelsey Wells to the event, who are 2 of the biggest names in fitness globally right now!
How has the fitness industry changed in Dubai since you launched?
When we first launched in 2016 we didn’t really see a huge amount of sports nutrition products on the shelves of supermarkets and convenience stores. Now they’re everywhere. A lot of these international brands have entered the market through the event, met local partners and established long-term relationships.
And in the same way that the event has diversified, the market of fitness operators has also broadened and become much more sophisticated. Facilities also have become much more diverse in terms of their targeting. The trend of boutique studios has given people a lot more choice and they can now visit more specialist facilities.
Also, gyms have become much more accessible as new entrants have made the market more competitive. When I first moved to the UAE nearly 10 years ago you needed to be spending some serious money to join a gym and often pay for a year up front – which meant a huge proportion of the market was completely blocked out from many gyms. But now there’s low cost gyms, short-term membership options, and even apps like ClassPass that have given consumers more choice without a long-term commitment.
Regionally, Saudi Arabia has witnessed huge growth in the number of operators since restrictions on women’s fitness activities have become more relaxed. But the latest reports on gym penetration rates suggest that as few as 3.7% in KSA and 6% in the UAE have memberships at health clubs/gyms. This compares to 15% in the UK and 21% in the US, but with more collaborative work across the industry, greater education and awareness, in addition to some of the governments great public health initiatives, like Dubai Fitness Challenge, we can bring these numbers up.
What is the ambition for you and the team at Dubai Muscle Show/Dubai Active?
The event serves to develop the Middle East fitness industry and inspire the local fitness community. Our aim has always been to build an event that brings together the whole Middle Eastern fitness community with the leading brands, athletes, influencers, and experts from across the world. This is why we’ve been so committed to constant diversification, whilst evolving and improving the existing features of the event each year.
Is Covid 19 affecting your 2020 plans and how are you managing it?
The demand from brands for this year’s event before COVID-19 was higher than ever, and now things are starting to recover we’ve seen a renewed interest in the show. We confirmed a Gold Sponsor at the start of the lockdown, and we’ve signed a new Title Sponsor in the last couple of weeks, so we’re still on track for a great event in January.
We’ve had to make some changes to the planned dates, based on concerns around international travel restrictions and discussions with our partners and clients. We recently announced that the event will be moving to January 2021 instead of the planned November 2020 dates, which has been really positively received by all.
Considering how important fitness has been in protecting people from COVID-19, the demand for fitness has never been higher, and we’re happy to provide brands with a platform to take advantage of the new wave of fitness enthusiasts entering the market – whether it’s through digital marketing offerings or participation at the event in January.
If you could have one fitness superstar at your show who would it be??
t would 100% have to be Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
We’re in a fortunate position that there’s no other events like ours in the Middle East. It’s such a unique concept where we’ve combined a live multi-sports event, where professional and amateur champions can be crowned, with an international fitness exhibition that provides education and business development opportunities for the industry.
Even on a global scale, we often hear from our partners that they generate more ROI with us than at other international shows, as Western brands can meet new partners from not only the Middle East, but also Asia, Africa and Australia due to the geographical location of the show.
Thanks Craig for your time.. Any final words to our Audience?
We’ve got some huge announcements due in the next couple of months, so please follow us on Instagram or Facebook to keep up with news about all 3 shows, with tickets going on sale from September.
For any fitness/wellness brand looking to reach over 30,000 consumers and industry professionals, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.