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In urgent need of rejuvenation

Once the most flourishing of businesses in the state, the Goan spa industry today is in dire straits with establishment

owners feeling the squeeze of the ongoing lockdown, reports Shoma Patnaik

With nobody talking of the re-opening of spas during the frequent easing of lockdowns these are bad days for the once booming spa industry.  Spas and salons along with gyms, schools and restaurants were the first to shut in the state during the pandemic lockdowns and they remain shut since March 16.

“The industry is terribly affected by the pandemic lockdown. It is for too long we are shut and even our staff has moved out,” says Asha Arondekar, founder Tatva Spa.

The spa industry in the state like in other states majorly employs citizens from the north-east India who have left during the ongoing wave of migrant departures. Arondekar who runs a spa chain across the state, reveals that, in her company itself she is lost 80 per cent of staff.

“The industry was the first to close down and looks like it will be the last to open. The salon sections of spa outlets have opened to customers but we can see the trend. People are still under the fear of the virus and afraid of coming out in public places. Unless and until it is really essential they are not visiting salons,” says Arondekar. 

With no events taking place, no weddings or parties there is little motivation for residents to head for a good massage and look nice. Furthermore spa treatments are luxuries and in the current situation of pay cuts and salary hold backs people have less money to spend.

“If this situation continues for a long time we don’t know whether we will be able to survive. Six months down the line I am sure many small stakeholders will shift out,” says Arondekar.  

Ground check reveals that several, small standalone spas are up for sale. Establishment owners are selling furniture and equipment to quit an industry that does not looks to be reviving soon. The trend of spa outlets closing is mostly in the Candolim- Calangute- Baga beach belt of north Goa, a location that saw the maximum number of wellness centers mushrooming in recent years. The spas located in five-star resorts are in similarly unenviable position as hotels are closed for guests during the ongoing lockdown.

“Our sector is hit by triple whammy,” says Sumeet Bhobe, director, Snip Salons & Spas. He says that demand for spa and related services is very less and even if people come to the establishments there are no staff to service customers. “The third problem is that landlords are refusing to reduce or waive off the rent as a result of which establishment owners are finding it difficult to  keeping the outlet running,” says Bhobe.

He adds that, outlets where there is a salon owners are operating the salon section. “Outlets are doing hair colour and hair cuts but that is just 12 per cent of the business which is not enough of revenue to keep afloat.” Bhobe owns four spa outlets across the state and provides employment to 220 people, viz., in the pre- COVID-19 days.

Spas and salons are a part of the multi-crore wellness industry and are robust providers of employment. “The industry is one of the largest providers of jobs in the state and also contributes substantially to the state treasury by way of GST,” points out, Ashwin Dcosta, Sukho Thai- Goa, a Thai foot massage chain. 

He explains that, spas are an integral part of the tourism industry and until tourism activities do not get back to normal the industry will continue to be badly affected. According to Dcosta, the industry despite doing zero business in the last three months did not forget to look after its staff. “We took care of our employee accommodation and food while they were here and until they went back to their home state. They left just two weeks back. We did not retrench or cut salaries,” says Dcosta.  He adds that, the situation is bad for the spa industry as a whole 

The spa industry in the state is highly fragmented. There are branded spa chains, luxury spas located in hotels, standalone outlets and even fly-by-night outlets owned by individuals who have money to invest.  The luxury segment is capital intensive as it is quality
conscious.

“The returns in this business depend a lot on the way the outlet is operated as well as the rental agreement. In the present scenario small, standalone spas will not be able to sustain,” says Dcosta, who is planning to open all his five outlets once the government gives permission to open.

Spa owners in the state say that, owing to the present circumstances of uncertainty they cannot plan for the future. “We want the lockdown to be lifted but due to the nature of our services we are aware of the risk. We cannot expose our staff to a potential COVID positive customer. I believe it is better to stay safe from the infection,” says Bhobe.

   He feels that, the industry will receive back its core workforce after the pandemic finishes its run. “Our staff  have told that they will return back,” says Bhobe.

“We have our fingers crossed for things to get back to normal and people to want to look good again for the industry to rejuvenate,” adds Arondekar.

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