Sat, Aug 18, 2007 - Page 12 News List

Gyms cool on new regulations

BY Jason Tan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Gym operators yesterday said they are committed to the new rules governing refunds and the creation of reserves, saying that the regulations would have a minimal impact on their operations.

As of last Wednesday, operators of fitness chains are required by the government to keep a portion of membership income as reserves with a financial institutions, if their patrons pay more than NT$50,000 (US$1,515) for an annual membership.

The measure is to safeguard consumers' interests should gym operators go bankrupt.

Members would also be able to get a refund more easily under the new rules.

"Starting from last month, our new members have been covered under the new rules," said Grace Lee (李佩琳), public relations manager for Alexander Health Club (亞力山大俱樂部), Taiwan's largest fitness center chain with 20 clubs nationwide and 280,000 members.

The impact of the refund policy is minimal as the club has always agreed to return money to members under certain circumstances, such as if they fall ill or are injured, she said.

Curves International Inc, a new women-only fitness center that debuted in Taiwan in March, also said the rules would have a minimum impact.

Curves does not offer membership contracts for more than 12 months and its annual fees are less than the NT$50,000 mark, public relations manager Kiki Lin (林文琪) said.

"If our members get pregnant, they can extend the membership. We always think of our consumers welfare," she said.

The new rules came in the wake of the closure of the Youth Camp Health Group (佳姿健康集團) on May 20, 2005, which affected as many as 250,000 members.

"Setting aside reserves is a way of protecting consumers, who will be able to get back part of their money if the operators fail, like in the Youth Camp case," said a Consumer Protection Commission official, who asked not to be named.

The new rules will also change the past practice where members failed to get a refund after signing up to a contract lasting for a year or more and then decided to leave.

Gym operators have to pay back the remainder if members decide to quit, but they can charge a transaction fee of up to 20 percent of the remaining amount because of the breach of contract, the official said.

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