One massage business is growing as demand for the healing touch soars in stressful times. But uncertainty lies ahead for an industry reliant on close contact.
Storefronts are shuttering around the country but Auckland's Bamboo Spa is opening a new branch in Wellington next month - its sixth in New Zealand.
Bookings at the traditional Filipino massage service are up 50 per cent compared to pre-Covid times, said owner Princess Abigail.
"The moment we opened our doors at level 2, oh my god it was non stop. We've had to increase the number of beds, we're hiring and training new people to keep up with demand."
The growth of Bamboo Spa is defying a widespread retail confidence dip, with Retail NZ recently warning that 10,000 businesses are at risk of closure.
"We're not sure if it's because of the stress of pandemic and lockdown, or maybe people have more money to spend because they can't travel," Abigail told the Herald.
A key factor is pricing. A 60-minute full body massage at Bamboo costs $55, compared to higher-end spas that charge more than double that.
"We're really affordable, and it's the quality of our Philippine hospitality from the foot soak at the start to our ginger tea at the end. Everyone leaves our shop feeling younger and less stressed."
People are dealing with the stresses of Covid and some therapists are seeing greater demand for their health and well-being treatments, said Helen Smith, president of industry body Massage New Zealand.
Bookings at the high-end East Day Spa in central Auckland reflects this shift towards massage and wellness, in contrast to higher demand for its beauty treatments pre-Covid.
But business is down overall compared to last year, because of lockdown and border closures affecting the number of guests at the hotel where the spa sits, says East Day CEO Ina Bajaj.
TOUGH TIMES FOR TOUCH SECTOR
For an industry reliant on touch, New Zealand's alert levels 3 and 4 earlier this year had meant a complete shutdown, while ongoing level 2 restrictions in Auckland mean reduced work in an era of social distancing.
Therapists who have vulnerable and immune-compromised clients like those suffering from cancer or respiratory illnesses are particularly affected, said Smith of Massage NZ.
Operating in a pandemic also means more work in terms of cleaning, procedures and precautions to keep up with Health Ministry safety guidelines, which significantly lengthens the unpaid part of the working day, she added.
Bookings are down about 10 per cent at Lifestyles Neuromuscular & Massage Therapy in Auckland's New Lynn, which specialises in treating soft tissue chronic pain issues.
Company director Doug Maynard said some clients have lost jobs, and others are catching up with work coming out of lockdown.
But he's cautiously optimistic, citing the company's large client database, expertise and 20-year reputation.
"I've been through recessions before, and in any business there are peaks and troughs. We've just got to ride it out," Maynard said.
The ride is proving easier at Bamboo Spa, which is expanding and hiring at a time of closures and layoffs.
"We started Bamboo Spa as a way to create jobs for our community, and we're very happy that the new therapists we're hiring are people who have lost their jobs elsewhere," said Abigail.
"We survive because we make massage affordable, so people don't just come once in a blue moon."