If you were a business investor wanting to open a spa, wouldn’t you want the best possible chance for your investment to thrive? If your business plan offered special Ayurvedic massage that attracted customers from as far away as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, you would probably position your salon strategically near the Causeway for easy access. If you were opening a grocery store or restaurant that catered to, say the Filipino community, chances are you would open in Gudaibiya, the Pinoy heartland in Manama.
One of the much-celebrated advantages of running a business in Bahrain is the ease of getting the necessary permissions and the transparency of laws. And a much-complained about disadvantage is that a good idea spawns many imitations, some even better than the original and soon the market gets overcrowded with assembly-line sheesha outlets, specialty coffee shops or whatever is trending at the moment. Market forces being such, the good ones survive and the bad ones are quietly pushed out of business.
Into this equation, we have a government body stepping in with the diktat that Manama is overcrowded with salons, massage parlours and spas and that there will be a ban on opening new ones. The reasons given for this decision are confused. An over-saturated market is one and also fears that some of these businesses are being used as a cover for illegal businesses.
Both may be valid reasons but to impose a ban on similar businesses in Manama seems like throwing out the baby with the bath water. In my opinion, as a business-friendly country, policing where an investor will open his/her service-oriented business is not the job of official bodies unless it is about the environment or traffic congestion or a matter of public safety in some way. If a business is suspected of running a vice ring or dealing in narcotics, surely it is the work of Bahrain’s efficient criminal investigation department to catch the culprits and monitor all such businesses to ensure they do not break the rules? We have a surfeit of hotel rooms in Manama, for example, but nobody asks new hospitality investors to build the next four or five star property in Askar, now, do they?
Maybe one move that the government can implement is stricter standards on the use of terms such as “spa”. There are so-called spas that are the size of large cold stores and they certainly give a bad name to the beauty and spa industry in Bahrain. Just like pre-schools are strictly monitored about the facilities and the space available for each child and traffic access in the surrounding area, spas should be more strictly checked for their facilities, space and qualified personnel before being allowed to use that term to describe their services.
Meanwhile, is anybody checking the proliferation of vape shops which deal in tobacco that has been openly acknowledged to cause cancer and heart disease? Till recently the accoutrements for the smoking habit were limited to cigarette stands in shops, sheesha shops and the occasional cigar store. I have been reassured often that sheesha is “not smoking” because the tobacco content is so low and the material is mainly fruit peel – a clearly false claim.
Similarly, there are many who genuinely believe that e-cigarettes, sold in Vape stores, are a benign and less harmful than cigarettes.
My point in bringing up the topic of vape shops is that every business has to be assessed and monitored to serve the public as well as the investor’s interest. One decision often leads to another stumbling block and we don’t want the red tape that we discarded to come back and stifle us.