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All That Glitters in Dubai

By: Melinda Taschetta-Millane
Posted: September 25, 2008, from the October 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

page 5 of 11

“As a result of increasing interest and as a duty to protect the public interest, the UAE Ministry of Health requires all ayurvedic physicians and practitioners to comply with professional, ethical and practice standards, and act as responsible agents for their patients, with the aim of keeping the dignity of ayurveda in the UAE. And to offer the best kind of ayurvedic service for the UAE public, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has implemented few licensing formalities,” Shyam explains. “The practice of ayurvedic medicine consists of the ethical application of a body of knowledge, principles and methods known as medical science, and these objective standards are the basis of medical licensure for any physician. Therefore no person shall practice ayurveda in the UAE without first being licensed by the MOH. Successfully passing of the traditional complementary and alternative medicine (TCAM) qualifying examination is a prerequisite for the evaluation and grant of TCAM practice license.”

An ongoing challenge heard from all spas I visited in Dubai is that of finding quality therapists. “I believe the spa industry itself has to take charge of quality control and should turn it into a positive force,” says Shyam. “It is estimated that approximately 80% of the UAE population are expatriates. This has resulted in a very young population and a very low number of individuals 60 or older. Consumer expectations are growing proportionately with the rising wealth of the population, resulting in strong societal pressure to adopt policies that satisfy heightened consumer expectations. Unfortunately, the development of structured quality assurance programs and the ongoing evaluation of the health outcomes of the spa industry has lagged behind, leaving limited information on outcomes available for decision-making by policy makers.”

The potential for a spa’s involvement in this movement in Dubai is very high. “There is a high per capita income here—the third highest—and these people have disposable income,” says Shyam, who continues to say that the number of spas is rising in Dubai, mainly via hotel and resort spas. In fact, this number is said to be 66% of all UAE spas, according to the Intelligent Spas United Arab Emirates Spa Benchmark Report. Having been at the spa since 2001, Shyam views Dubai’s spa industry as a mushroom. “There does not exist a minimum requirement and standardization for the term spa,” he explains. “You can even come across dental spas in Dubai. The mushrooming of so-called spas and massage parlors degrades this health care and wellness system into a mere massage system. It is nice to see the interest generated by the massage centers about body treatments among the public, but at the same time, it is causing many misbeliefs, also.

“Spas pop up without proper market studies and without having minimum requirements,” he goes on to explain. “I have witnessed many opening and closing down in a short period due to lack of business. As per available reports, there are currently around 100 spas in Dubai, and that is expected to grow to 200 by 2015, making it one of the top spa destinations in the world. The Middle East as a whole is expected to add 300 spas in the same period, with total ‘therapy’ and ‘beautician’ staffing estimated at 5,000–8,000.”

New market potential in Dubai is coming from the Generation Y group: 30-year-olds, which happens to also be the average age in Dubai, even though the typical American spa-goer is said to be between 35–50. “To give a little bit of history, around A.D. 400, there were more than 500 spas in Rome, both public and private. By the beginning of the 20th century, clinics were replacing spas and spas became destinations for the wealthy,” explains Shyam. “Now, it is coming back because of the need for healthy lifestyles and the need for wellness. If we keep this up, we will have a strong future.”