It’s well known that Dubai isn’t the most wallet-friendly place on earth. This fact was highlighted in September by Swiss bank UBS’s cost of living survey, which ranked it as the most expensive city in the Middle East, and 22nd in the world. And there’s no doubt that while costs have started rising slowly across the board, many people’s salaries won’t have risen in harmonious tandem.
As a result, you might be feeling a little out of pocket – even more so if you’ve grown accustomed to visiting the spa regularly as part of your monthly routine. We’ve noticed that spa prices have been slowly rising by Dhs50, Dhs80 and even Dhs100 a pop at a number of pampering spots around town.
Of course, a visit to your favourite spa is certainly a treat and not an essential, but spa-going is a popular pastime in the city, and with new parlours opening and the level of competition increasing on an almost weekly basis, it’s surprising, if nothing else, that prices appear to be steadily creeping up.
Group-buying websites have done little to encourage prices back down – many spas and salons are reluctant to take part in order to maintain the value of their brand. And for some, discounts are simply not an option, when margins are already so low.
‘I keep telling people, spas won’t make you rich – there’s not a lot of money it,’ laughs Salina Handa, founder and managing director of SensAsia Urban Spas. Despite the fact she estimates the company’s costs have risen by 25 percent in the past two years, the spa group has only raised prices by about six percent. ‘Dubai is becoming more expensive, and in the past two years our costs have escalated tremendously. It’s mainly unexpected costs and things we can’t control – our rents have gone up, the cost of visas for staff, flights IDs registration and the like have gone up about 200 percent… We’ve spent so much money on bringing staff in,’ she explains. ‘But we don’t know how to pass that on to the consumer. It’s so unfair to do that, so we’re trying to cut costs elsewhere, hence fewer discounts.’
Battling against rising costs, it’s a continuing effort to keep prices for customers stagnant, and things aren’t boding well for 2013. ‘We’ve changed suppliers, but it’s really hard, and I think next year it is inevitable that our prices will go up another four percent. We’ve just been given two weeks’ notice by one of our product suppliers for our facials that their prices are going up six percent, and we will have to go up the exact amount.’
Dr Shylaja Ravikumar of Softouch Spa in Kempinski Mall of the Emirates agrees, noting that the rising cost of products and employing staff has affected pricing at the spa. Though its charges have remained the same since 2008, she expects that during the review next June, some prices will increase. It’s worth noting that many spas in hotels will be at a slight advantage, insulated from possible issues such as rising rent and the sudden implementation of district cooling fees by the fact they are a small part of a much larger business. That said, their budgets for products, marketing and employment, among other things, are likely to be handled as separate entities, so their resources are by no means unlimited.
Sanga RamaKrishnan, of the independent Thai Privilege Spa, expresses another expectation for the next 12 months. She notes that not only has the beauty industry expanded, but it has also matured, and she now expects the gap between high-end spas and salons and budget establishments to widen, establishing independent markets for different types of consumers.
As a rule across all spas, Salina explains that facials are one of the most expensive services to provide, especially if you’re using branded products. One of SensAsia’s facials in particular uses a staggering 22 different products, which gets things off to a pricey start – then you need to factor in the cost of labour and laundry. Before you know it, your costs are scarily close to the price you’re charging, and your profit margins are minimal.
Some of the least expensive services to provide are foot massages, or anything that uses just an essential oil and doesn’t require the customer to remove much clothing (thus decreasing laundry costs). This is usually an area where the spa is able to offer a more affordable price as a result.
In all, it seems as though we can expect spa prices to keep increasing over the course of the next year. It may be just as gradual, but now will be a good time to address your spa routine and decide whether it’s time to find a more affordable version.
Affordable treatments to opt for
The price of a massage typically hinges on the price of the oils used. Balinese massages often use more inexpensive eastern essential oils, and if you request 60 minutes instead of 90, you can save a bit more cash.
Foot and hand massage
Anything that uses just an essential oil and doesn’t incur too many laundry costs for the spa will automatically allow them to offer better value.
Not much labour, a short turnaround time and low product costs make this a relatively cheap service to provide.