Spa and wellness operators strive to minimize risks

COSZI Chong comes to work an hour early every day to make sure their massage and foot therapy center is fully prepared to welcome customers.

The CEO of Relax Oasis at Nu Sentral Mall, Kuala Lumpur, wants to ensure that Standard Operating Procedures are strictly followed.

She is grateful that the government has allowed wellness centers to reopen under the Conditional Movement Control Ordinance and wants to make sure it stays that way.

“Business is down 50% since last year, but we’re surviving thanks to our regulars, who are mostly locals,” she said.

The spa and wellness industry in the capital is heavily dependent on international tourists who are not allowed into the country due to the closure of the borders due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The sector has been so badly hit that industry experts estimate that at least half of all operators have closed their stores since last year.

An employee of a massage and foot therapy center sprays disinfectant on a customer before she is allowed to enter the premises. – Photos: CHAN TAK KONG and ONG SOON HIN / The Star

“We are lucky enough to be in a mall so there is a large pool of potential customers from the office crowd.

“But we can’t take things for granted and we have to work harder to make sure the SOP is followed to make sure we stay open,” said Chong.

Part of their new routine is to make sure the point of sale is thoroughly wiped down every morning before business starts.

The therapists wear personal protective equipment, while customers are sprayed with an alcohol-free disinfectant before entering the premises.

“Before the next customer comes in, everything is cleaned and all chair covers, duvets and spa tools are replaced with new ones and disinfected,” she said.

As an added precaution, Chong no longer accepts walk-ins and prefers customers to book their sessions in advance.

“We can better serve them that way and make sure the rules are followed,” she said.

Chong says even though their facility is in a mall, they no longer accept walk-in customers.Chong says even though their facility is in a mall, they no longer accept walk-in customers.

Adhere to high standards

Khem Dhami, the director of Tranquility Spa & Wellness at the Marriott Putrajaya, said they are now also not accepting walk-ins or cash payments.

“It is actually a very safe environment because we have very high standards.

“I’m a trainer myself and everyone who works here has been informed about compliance with the SOP.

“This way we can reassure our customers that their safety is a priority,” he said.

Gavin FooGavin Foo

Malaysian Wellness and Spa Association (Mawspa) vice president I Gavin Foo said, as an experimental industry, such facilities cannot work the way they want.

“We have to make sure that the regulations are strictly followed.

“Our members must meet high standards in order to receive ratings like the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture,” he said.

As a quality feature, the association asks the members to display their rating, business and other licenses as well as the price list for the services offered outside the premises.

“The public will trust serious players more if this is done.

“We don’t want to be associated with the black sheep that are damaging the industry’s reputation,” said Foo, referring to some massage centers that had been converted into vice caves. ((Related story: DBKL vice squad on high alert)

Labor shortage

Another hurdle for Mawspa members is the lack of trained workers.

The spa and wellness industry relies heavily on foreign workers, most of whom left the country when the first MCO was imposed last year.

The Tranquility Spa could only be opened for four months last year due to the acute shortage of skilled workers.

“Since we lacked therapists and masseuses, we had to turn customers away,” said Khem.

Most of the spa’s therapists who went home have not been able to return because the international borders are still closed.

“From 15 therapists we’ve got down to five,” he said, adding that they tried to recruit Malaysians but the response was poor.

According to Khem, the industry is facing a labor shortage as most of its overseas workforce has left due to the MCO.According to Khem, the industry is facing a labor shortage as most of its overseas workforce has left due to the MCO.

Similarly, Chong said her workforce had dropped from 14 to seven.

“We have to turn customers away,” she said, expressing the hope that foreign workers will soon be able to return.

Looking ahead, Foo hopes local authorities can work with the association on licensing.

“We want to ensure that only legitimate centers that adhere to industry guidelines are approved.

“We hope to develop a rating system that can be used to convince customers of the quality of the spa and wellness centers,” he said.

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