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Spas open 24 hours to meet customers' kneadsBut residents fear late-night hours could attract sleaze
SPAS and massage centres are increasingly staying open round the clock to cater to weary tourists and workers keen to relax after a hard day at the office.
At least four of them now operate 24 hours a day, up from only one a year ago.
But some residents fear allowing all-night opening could attract undesirable elements, such as men seeking sexual services.
'If the spa doesn't have a clean, healthy image, even if it does proper business, it may attract the wrong crowd and affect the environment,' said stay-at- home dad Kassim Abdullah, 42, who lives near a 24-hour outlet in Kembangan.
Singapore has 60 massage establishments that open past 11pm. But most of them close by 4am due to staffing costs and the fact that there are still relatively few patrons in the early hours.
The number of such customers, however, appears to be on the rise.
Financial analyst Gary Choo is one of them. 'Now, I can stop by for a massage when I finish work at 1am,' said the 32-year-old, a regular at the all-night Heart Springs Spa in North Bridge Road. 'It helps me sleep better when I get home, and I feel recharged the next day.'
Yue Se Beauty Spa, in North Bridge Road, originally stayed open until 2am before deciding to open round the clock.
'In our first month of business, we kept having to extend our hours to accommodate our customers,' said manager Linda Xiong, 43. 'The closing time went from 2am to 3am, then 7am. Finally, we decided just to stay open 24 hours.'
The late-night spa business has been brisk. Herbal Footcare Health and Beauty Centre, at Orchard Plaza, has expanded from two to eight outlets since 2006 to accommodate a growing number of night-time customers, mostly tourists staying at nearby hotels.
Most 24-hour spas are busiest between 9pm and 2am. Some earn up to half their daily revenue during this period. Although the crowds thin by about 4am, the spas are open 24 hours to make full use of their resources.
Ms Nicole Feng, 37, owner of S&N Spa, in Changi Road, said in Mandarin: 'We are already paying for rent and for workers to work the late-night shift, so why not open 24 hours? And we still have customers in the morning, even if they are very few.'
But late-night massage venues face the challenge of overcoming the perception that they are sleazy, after spas offering sexual services tainted the industry.
Mr Hri Kumar Nair, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Law and Home Affairs, questions the need to have them in residential areas when they can operate in town.
He added that although 24-hour spas may run a 'naturally clean business', they may 'attract certain elements'.
'The police must then have ongoing enforcement plans to ensure that such businesses conduct themselves in legitimate ways,' he said.
For example, residents in the Joo Chiat area used to be disturbed by noise and nuisance from bars and massage parlours that opened until late. That was until vice raids and neighbourhood patrols reined in the problem a few years ago.
Regular checks are conducted on massage parlours, said the police, which oversee their licensing. Last year, 50 had their licences revoked for flouting one or more conditions, up from just six in 2009.
Massage establishments accredited under the Consumers Association of Singapore's CaseTrust scheme can apply for a special licence that grants them unrestricted opening hours instead of the usual 10am to 11pm. Those that operate in full view of the public or provide treatments by a registered therapist, such as physiotherapy, also face no restrictions to their opening hours.
There are about 1,200 spas and massage centres in Singapore.
Ms Nancy Lim, president of the Spa Association of Singapore, said 24-hour establishments could improve their image by paying attention to the presentation of the shop and professionalism of the staff. She added: 'Nowadays, 24-hour businesses are so common - from fast-food chains to shopping centres. People don't think they are improper, so why should 24-hour spas be different?'