An Asian massage war in central Auckland is seeing operators undercut each other with deals from as low as $5.
Wayne Massage - a Chinese therapeutic massage business that has two outlets in the city - is offering a seven- minute massage for $5, and the price includes two hours of free parking at its Atrium on Elliott stall.
Leelawadee Thai massage, which opened just over two months ago, is offering an introductory rate of $45 for an hour-long Thai yoga massage - $30 less than what is being charged at other massage centres in the city.
There are now more than a dozen businesses offering Asian massage in the city centre - with more to open soon - and the more established outlets are being forced to lower their rates in order to compete.
A therapist at Golden Sail Massage, a chain with outlets in most Westfields malls in Auckland, said its downtown outlet offered the cheapest rate at $10 for a 10-minute massage.
"Everywhere else we are charging $15, but if we charged that here we will lose all our customers to our competitors," he said.
Natural Healing Therapy at the Midcity Queen St Markets opened charging $55 for an hour-long massage but reduced the cost to $40 two weeks ago, and Superb Massage at the National Bank Building increased what it offered from 10 to 15 minutes for $10.
Massage New Zealand, an association of professional massage therapists, claims that getting a massage at such outlets can be risky.
"Looking at a lot of places that are offering these massages, the therapists are not professionally trained, which is quite a big risk for the public going to visit them," said Marianne Macdonald, the association's executive officer.
"If somebody doesn't know what they're doing as a massage therapist they can give a treatment that's really not effective, and can even be harmful."
She said the charges for a massage by a registered therapist were between $60 and $100.
Wayne Zheng, 46, owner of Wayne Massage, said the $5 massage being offered at his outlets were aimed at "introducing the Asian massage culture to Kiwis".
"Street massage is very common in Asia where you can find them in almost every market corner and every mall, but it is still quite a new concept in New Zealand," Mr Zheng said.
"What we are hoping is that the people who pay for the $5 massage will feel good and get into the culture of getting a massage regularly, like in Asia."
Bruce Cunningham, who owns Leelawadee Thai Massage, said his outlet had seen a three-fold increase in bookings over the two months it had operated. "Queen St is a perfect location to have an outlet because it is where office workers, shoppers, international students, tourists - people who want massages most - are," Mr Cunningham said.
Leelawadee's main therapist, Jane Pakwipa Sangrat, holds a massage certificate from Thailand.
There is no legal requirement for massage therapists to hold any qualifications or be registered to operate in New Zealand.
Shopper Mia Harvey, 36, who goes for a massage at least once a week, said she was not concerned about getting a rub from therapists who did not hold formal qualifications. "At the end of the day, what I want is just a bit of relaxation and it is all the better now that it's hurting the wallet less."By Lincoln Tan Email Lincoln