“When you go to certain places, especially the rows of shophouses near Taman Sentosa and Taman Pelangi, it gets very uncomfortable … it’s not family-friendly at all,” she added, referring to districts near the city centre located within a 10-minute drive from Woodlands Causeway.
The industry’s shady reputation has prompted the Johor Bahru City Council (MBJB) to freeze applications for new business licences for spa, massage, reflexology and wellness outlets in the city.
Making the announcement earlier this month, Johor Bahru mayor Mohd Noorazam Osman said the freeze is to allow MBJB to “replan and rebrand the business activity so that it will be on par with developed countries”.
He added that these businesses should be relocated to zones like shopping malls and hotels where the operating hours are more “suitable”.
“Many apply for licences due to high demand from tourism. However, at the same time, we do not want any immoral activities taking place at these premises,” Mr Mohd Noorazam said.
The freeze does not extend to licence renewals, applications to add lots, or the changing of company owner or company names, he said.
Prior to the freeze, MBJB would receive an average of 15 new applications for such business licenses each month, he added. At present, there are 151 licensed wellness businesses.
MBJB recently discovered that 43 premises had run afoul of licensing laws by operating in unsuitable zones, for example, and they have been forced to shut operations, he said.
‘PEOPLE WILL SEE US IN A BETTER LIGHT’
Some legitimate spa operators applauded the decision to freeze new applications.
They said businesses with improper practices — which, according to them, are mostly short-term operations — will be weeded out by the new regulations and this will boost the standards and reputation of the industry overall.