New Report Shows Bouldering, Expansion Gyms Are on the Rise in the UK

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Survey of ABC Member Climbing Walls
In a year in which bouldering and expansion gym growth reached record levels in North America, a survey from the Association of British Climbing Walls shows these trends have been unfolding in the United Kingdom, as well. (Photo by Get Climbing, courtesy of ABC Walls)

The Association of British Climbing Walls (ABC Walls) recently released the results of its latest biannual survey of the indoor climbing industry in the United Kingdom. The survey, now in its fourth edition, was carried out by Crystal Market Research and ran from April 27th to June 16th last year. Open to the organization’s members, the survey received 92 responses from climbing facilities located throughout the UK, but predominantly from the South of England (45%). Topics covered in the 47-page summary document span the gamut of climbing facility operation, detailing trends around climbing wall services/programs, participants, standards/policies, staff and financials.

Of note in the report is that multiple figures have returned to—and in some cases, surpassed—pre-COVID figures in past editions. Average customer visits in the last 12 months, for instance, increased from 39,569 in the 2019 survey to 62,510 in 2023—a 58% jump. And reported gross turnover “has increased substantially since 2021,” according to the report, with 19% of responding facilities now bringing in over £1 million (compared to 3% in 2021).

However, overall confidence in the long-term viability of an indoor climbing business is still making a rebound: “In general, the walls in our survey are still confident about the future, though slightly less strongly so than in 2021, the small walls especially…The challenges facing walls most commonly cited are competition from other walls opening in their area, especially ‘chain’ walls, and increasing operating costs, including rising staff wages,” the report stated.

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Indeed, the survey’s results show that the development of climbing facility chains, as well as bouldering-only facilities, has been on the rise in the UK—a trend that CBJ has long reported as taking place in the North American industry, as well. In 2023, 49% of the climbing facilities responding to the ABC Walls survey were part of groups, or chains—compared to 37% in 2021—and 67% of facilities that opened less than four years ago were bouldering-only.

Other amenities that have been gaining in popularity, in terms of programming, include local climbing competitions and national “schemes,” or training programs, for instructors and climbers—both of which increased by at least 20 percentage points from 2019 to 2023. On the flip side, the percentage of responding gyms offering children’s parties and yoga/pilates decreased in the latest survey.

The full 2023 Survey of ABC Member Climbing Walls is available for free to participating ABC Walls members, and other organizations can purchase the report by contacting ABC Walls here.

Click here to read more international stories, and stay tuned to CBJ for further coverage of the indoor climbing industry worldwide.

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