The spa industry is now considered one of the fasted growing economic sectors in Malaysia as it has grown 16 per cent in the last five years according to industry estimates (photo credit: Beaubelle Malaysia).
By S.G. Ang
It’s no longer unusual to seek out a favourite spa if one is in need of a quick and relaxing massage between meetings or after a hard day of sitting behind a desk at work.
To many young male and female executives living and working in corporate Malaysia, the many spas in the country offer a quick respite to their stressful corporate lives.
When we think spa, we think of a place that tempts our senses. Walk into a spa and immediately the whiff of sweet smelling essential oils greets you. You are immediately put into a relaxed state of mind as you are escorted to a softly lit private room where a whole range of therapeutic services awaits you.
Massages and other beauty related services have become very much part of the life of the modern girl and boy living in the city. A friend of mine, who wanted to take a six months sabbatical from her job, made sure that she had enough money for spa treatment at least once a month.
The spa industry is now considered one of the fasted growing economic sectors in Malaysia as it has grown 16 per cent in the last five years according to industry estimates.
With that in mind, the Ministry of Tourism and Culture is expecting the spa industry to help make tourism the fifth largest income earner for the country by the year 2020.
The ministry wants to increase its tourism receipts by getting tourists to spend more. Currently, tourists spend about RM56billion a year in Malaysia and the aim is to increase that spending to RM168billion by 2020.
But there are some challenges to overcome before the country can tap into this potential (essential) oil field.
For one, Malaysia is now playing catch-up with the other big boys around the region. Places like Bali, Manila and Bangkok have had an established spa industry for decades. Trying to compete with these countries will take a lot of effort on our part.
Top on the list of things to do is to regulate this mostly unregulated industry.
With that in mind, the ministry is trying to weed out the so-called “hank-panky spas” that give the industry a bad name and the unavoidable perception issues that come along with it.
Two years ago, the National Spa Council, which is made up of members of the spa industry and related government agencies, was established to address matters concerning the remaking of the local spa industry.
In the process, the Council created an official criteria rating for spas which is now used by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. The idea is to elevate the local spa industry to one that meets international standards.
The ministry has also established Centres of Excellence around the country to recruit and train locals to become spa therapists.
But it has not been all smooth sailing for the recruiters. Many young people are reluctant to become spa therapists as the industry is riddled with negative perceptions.
As a result of this undesirable image, the local spa industry is saturated with foreign workers. This is a shame as Malaysian spa therapists are much sought after in other countries.
While I was at a spa at the St. Regis Hotel in Singapore, I was greeted by an Indian Malaysian spa male therapist. I found this surprising as, after all my years of visiting local spas, this was first time I had encountered an Indian male therapist in this industry. He was very good and professional in his work and conduct.
The Ipoh boy said that he had been working in the spa industry in Singapore for over a decade and was headhunted by the spa.
The two main reasons offered by local spa therapists who have left Malaysia for better opportunities elsewhere is low pay here and the fact that many of the spas in the country are not regulated and therefore not managed professionally.
Currently, more than 60 per cent of therapists in the industry are foreign workers, and the Ministry of Tourism and Culture is hoping that, with a ranking system in place, more of these jobs will be filled by trained local young men and women.
By 2020 the Tourism Ministry is hoping to train 5,644 Malaysians to become spa therapists, former Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen had reportedly said last year.
This, however, will not be an easy task as parents are reluctant to send their children to these training courses although they are funded by the Tourism Ministry and recognised by the Human Resources according to Senior Principal Assistant Director of the Tourism Ministry’s Industry Development Division, Noriman Rojulai.
Many parents see the spa therapist job as being an undesirable career choice for their children, said Noriman. The challenge here is to convince parents that their children will be acquiring much sought after skills and would be employed in an industry that pays well, he added.
The other matter to consider is that of licensing.
Industry players say that in order to regulate the spa industry here, all the relevant government agencies in the country must draw up guidelines on licensing that would ensure that this industry grows unhindered.
Currently, some industry players say that the different government agencies involved in regulating the industry have conflicting regulatory rules and guidelines that only serves to puts road-blocks in their attempts to acquire licenses.
This does not bode well for overall improvements of this industry if agencies representing the public sector can’t find a way to cut through all the red tape. And if this issue is not iron out quickly, one really cannot blame parents or their children for having second thoughts about joining the local spa industry.
Given the industry potential, PEMANDU recently organised an industry sharing session which turned out to be a most engaging event from participants representing the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Ministry of Human Resource and various industry players like Jari-Jari Spa, Sabah, Hammam Spa and Sompoton Spa, as well as spa therapist trainees from Beaubelle Academy (pic).
Beaubelle Academy’s Ho Kit Mun (left) and Shahrul Nizam Amran looking forward to bright careers ahead within Malaysia’s spa industry.