x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Licence cap on massage parlours

Discovery of 'illegal activities' leads officials to call a halt to new licences; official calls on businessmen to consider other investments.

DUBAI // No new licences will be issued for massage parlours until further notice, after dozens were found engaging in illegal activities. Twenty-five massage parlours were slapped with fines of between Dh2,000 (US$540) and Dh10,000 after inspectors found some operating in residential areas and allowing women to massage men, among other breaches of their trade licences. Inspectors also found materials used for sexual activities, such as condoms. Two parlours were shut down permanently. During their recent round of inspections, officers from the Dubai Economic Department (DED) visited 34 massage businesses. Because of the high rate of violations and the department's belief that Dubai already has enough massage parlours, no new licences will be issued, said Omar Bushahab, the DED's chief officer of commercial compliance and consumer protection. "We have already stopped such activities. There will be no more new massage centres in Dubai," he said. "We found some centres were charging Dh800 for an hour. You can imagine what service they were offering for such high charges." He urged investors to seek out other business opportunities.

The department is now closely monitoring the 162 remaining massage parlours, many of which can be found in Bur Dubai, Deira, Al Barsha, and Jumeirah. Officials are also scanning newspaper advertisements and pamphlets that advertise massaging services. "We caught one European massage centre through our undercover agents who posed as customers responding to an advertisement in the newspaper," Mr Bushahab said. "We check their services and see if anything illegal was being offered to customers." He warned that repeat offenders could be closed down for good. Most of the massage parlours found breaking the rules claimed to be offering Chinese massages. Others said they were Thai or European massage centres. Many were operating in residential areas and even in residential flats. "This is the biggest problem," Mr Bushahab said. "Shops, hotels and hospitals are fine but not inside flats. In fact, many use flats to hide from the authorities and offer illegal services." Owners of parlours located in residential areas would be told to move when they came to renew their licences. The official said many massage parlour owners and managers were not aware of the laws governing them. Owners of legitimate massages centres said the regulations would help the industry. "When we say we offer massages, some customers directly ask us if other services are offered. It's because of such illegal massage centres that customers are thinking of something else when they come in," said Priya Jelly, manager of the Natural Healing Wellness Spa, a spa centre in Jumeirah. "Such illegal parlours are spreading in Dubai and should be stopped. It should be looked at as a well-being industry." pmenon@thenational.ae