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Massage Apps Get A Pat on the Back

Bloomberg Business

Massage Apps Get A Pat on the Back

Victoria Land’s back aches. It’s been a month since the 31-year-old public-relations manager’s last massage—her schedule’s unpredictable. And almost as bad was the effort she used to have to put into trying to book an appointment at her local spa. Instead, she pulls out her iPhone and opens Zeel, an app that summons a masseuse to her on demand. “It can fit into my timetable,” she says. “The fact that you just do the whole thing in your apartment—it’s just the best thing that ever happened.” In 19 U.S. cities, Zeel can send one of its 5,000-plus licensed massage therapists to your home, office, or hotel room in as little as an hour. Massages start at $105 for an hour, with prices varying by location, duration, and whether the customer needs a massage table. For devotees like Land, who says she uses the service at least once a month, the company offers a “Zeelot” package that includes a year of monthly massages starting at $84 per session. The app handles payment, including tax and tip, through a stored credit card, so no cash changes hands. The customer can also specify a male or female therapist. Besides vetting the therapists, Zeel requires would-be customers to enter a Social Security number, or submit a photo of a driver’s license or passport, when they register for the service. Chief Executive Officer Samer Hamadeh says this deters 30 percent of people from completing the sign-up process, but it’s worth it. “We have to verify who you are,” says Hamadeh. “There’s a lot of creepy guys that think massage means something else.” Most of the therapists have other sources of income, splitting their time among spas, client visits, or other careers. Karina Yanku, who’s been working as a massage therapist for 19 years, says app bookings have helped stabilize her workload. “It was becoming harder to make a living,” she says. “I started with Zeel three years ago, and I’ve never made so much money in my life.”