Advancing technologies are having a huge impact on every industry, and health club and fitness businesses are no exception. As economic clouds start to clear following a few tough years, the stage is set for intelligent club competitors to begin exploring innovations that improve their business models. With respect to the potential many new technologies provide, mobility is one of the most promising for a host of reasons.

Today, smartphones are all the rage. With an estimated 70 million intelligent mobile devices operating in the United States alone at the end of 2010, millions of new smartphones will find their way into people’s hands in 2011. Experts believe that as many as 500 million smartphones will sell globally in 2011, up from 269.6 million in 2010 and 173.5 million in 2009. The number of smartphone users in the United States should reach more than 150 million consumers some time in 2012.

That these mobile devices connect to the Internet makes their impact significant. The mobile Web opens a vast new audience. The technology research company Gartner predicts mobile will be the No. 1 Internet access method by 2013, and ABI Research forecasts that 8 percent of total e-commerce sales will come from mobile by 2014. Currently, one-third of all mobile users actively engage with Web content on their mobile phones, and 53 percent of smartphone users routinely engage in mobile Web browsing. This is changing the way consumers engage, shop and interact with brands and businesses via the Internet.

Major retailers and technology companies are deploying new innovations that tap into mobility mega trends. So what does it mean for the health club industry? The implications are expected to be significant. Here are three key trends in mobility for which leaders in the health club industry should watch:

1. Mobile Applications. Many major health club chains and even some regional brands have recently developed mobile applications for members. Fitness industry service providers have also launched mobile applications for their customers. But this is just the beginning of a wave of new apps for the fitness industry.

The overall mobile application marketplace is forecasted to reach 17.7 billion downloads in 2011, a 117 percent increase over the 8.2 billion downloads estimated in 2010. Apple’s App Store, for example, surpassed 10 billion downloads just two years after it went live. This represents a huge and emerging market space. Customers embrace these mobile applications for their ease of use and special functions and features while on the go.

Are apps just a fad? Not at all. A significant opportunity exists for more applications as mobile devices, including increasingly popular tablet devices, surge. Expect the mobile application marketplace for fitness facilities and suppliers to follow this overall trend.

2. Mobile Advertising. Geolocation capability is opening a new world of marketing and promotion opportunities. Today, there are mobile applications that enable shoppers to evaluate alternative pricing on the spot, and mobile advertising tools that utilize geolocation to determine when a potential customer is in a competitive store, sending them offers to lure away their business. For example, a member visiting one facility might receive a competitive ad on their mobile device from a training studio down the street. Strategic fitness facility competitors will eventually adopt these and other geolocation tactics that several retailers are already experimenting with.

As further evidence of the emerging trend of mobile advertising, Google is optimizing its advertising platform for the increasing pertinence of local-intent in a substantial portion of mobile searches. Google won’t be alone. This form of advertising will go mainstream quickly. Yahoo and others are also focused on local advertising via mobile. Brands like Dunkin’ Donuts, Burger King, Pizza Hut, State Farm Insurance and Home Depot are all working on mobile advertising solutions. Major health club competitors will likely join this trend as the advertising form becomes widely adopted.

3. Mobile Payment Systems. The idea that consumers could pay for products or services simply by swiping their mobile phones past a device is appealing to many retailers and consumers alike, and mobile phone companies are keen to move forward with this technology.

Everything Everywhere, a UK mobile service provider, recently announced the launch of a smartphone with embedded Near Field Communication technology, which allows wireless devices to swap information when they are touched together. Rumors are also circulating that Apple’s iPhone 5, launching in 2011, will also be capable of paying for small purchases by swiping it against a reader.

As an example of this trend going mainstream, nearly 6,800 company-operated Starbucks stores in the United States recently began accepting mobile payments. Customers using the Starbucks Card mobile app on their iPhone, iPod touch or BlackBerry are able to use the devices as tender. Mobile devices increasingly will be used as a method of payment for various retail brands, and health clubs won’t be far behind.

Mobile smartphones, with their access to the Internet and integrated geolocation and application functionality, are going to be an integral part of consumers’ lifestyles. The potential that this technology offers health clubs is limited only by one’s imagination. 2011 will see the emergence of these trends.

Bryan O'Rourke, co-founder of Integerus LLC, helps fitness and wellness organizations more effectively use innovative strategic, business and technology solutions. He has 25 years of experience consulting and serving in various for-profit and nonprofit executive capacities. O'Rourke holds an MBA from Southeastern Louisiana University and can be reached at Bryan@Integerus.com. Learn more at http://www.integerus.com/ and http://www.bryankorourke.com/.