Rom private villas in the Mediterranean fitted out to exacting requirements to city hotels going the extra mile to ensure the comfort of Muslim guests, the halal tourism market is emerging as one of the most influential travel niches in the global tourism marketplace.
In 2014, Muslims from around the globe spent $142 billion on travel (excluding Hajj and Umrah), according the newly released State of the Global Islamic Economy Report 2015/16 by Thomson Reuters in collaboration with DinarStandard. In comparison, travellers from China spent $160 billion on travel in 2014, while US travellers spent $143 billion, placing the Muslim travel sector in third place in global travel spending and accounting for 11 per cent of total global expenditures on travel.
The inaugural World Halal Tourism Summit and Exhibition in Abu Dhabi held in late October attracted about 3,000 visitors, 202 exhibitors and 10 international pavilions with 26 countries represented, organisers Cacti Events recently reported.
DinarStandard estimates that Muslim outbound tourism expenditures will expand to $233 billion by 2020. According to Rafiuddin Shikoh, CEO and managing director, DinarStandard, 'The Muslim consumer market is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world and purchasing power will continue to grow with significant impact on travel spending. We see global hospitality and destination brand’s focus on Halal marketing and acceptability will snowball.'
Understanding what comprises a halal tourism experience can be a challenge. According to the Islamic Tourism Centre, an entity launched to assist the Ministry of Tourism, Malaysia in the research and development of Muslim-conscious tourism, Halal travel means 'any activity, event and experience undertaken in a state of travel that is in accordance with Islam.'
But as Elnur Seyidli, chairman of the Board, HalalBooking.com, explains, 'What makes travel ‘Halal’ are mostly lifestyle requirements, so it’s important not to think about Halal travel as just a dry hotel. It goes far beyond that.'
Making provisions for guests with halal food offerings, a non-alcohol environment, nearby or onsite prayer facilities, private spa, pool and fitness facilities for women as well as Muslim-friendly activities are all part of the halal travel experience, but can be offered in varying degrees. For instance, while a resort holiday may require a private ladies beach facility, a city getaway may only demand in-room considerations such as a Quran, qibat, and a knowledgeable staff able to direct guests to nearby mosques and offer halal dining options.
SETTING NEW STANDARDS
'Everyone wants a holiday experience, but instead of looking at what Muslims need, we look at what Muslims don’t need,' states Nabeel Shariff, director, Serendipity Tailormade/Luxury Halal Travel in reference to travel spots with nightclubs and casinos. Serendipity Tailormade/Luxury Halal Travel specialises in high-end, halal-friendly travel including family retreats, honeymoons and adventure getaways. Offerings include safaris in Tanzania, treks to Patagonia, as well as luxury resort getaways and in-depth tours of non-Muslim destinations such as China, Brazil and South Africa, all the while enabling Muslim guests to keep their faith in comfort. 'It’s about meeting experiential expectations. It’s the quality of that experience that makes us successful,' Shariff commented.
On HalalBooking.com, travellers are able to search for accommodations using filters for halal food options and alcohol policy, with in-depth descriptions of other Muslim-friendly amenities and services at each property. The popular booking site served 43,000 customers from more than 70 countries last year and has seen sales triple for the first three quarters of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014.
Meanwhile, Salam Standard was launched last month as the world’s first online hotel reference tool dedicated to Muslim travellers. The Salam Standard is divided into Bronze, Silver and Gold categories based on the range of amenities and services each participating property offers Muslim guests, including availability of prayer carpets, qibla direction, alcohol policies and availability of halal-certified food. More than 10,000 properties worldwide have already joined the initiative, including AccorHotels, Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, Rotana Hotels & Resorts, Anantara Hotels & Resorts, and Rixos Hotels.
SERVING HALAL TRAVELLERS
Across the travel sector partners are reaching out to help Muslim travellers enjoy their experiences away from home. Smartphone apps such as HalalTrip, Irhal Muslim Travel City Guide and Thailand’s app for Muslim travellers lists mosques, Halal restaurants, Muslim-friendly accommodations, as well as shopping centres with prayer rooms. Australia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan offer similar guides.
Halal hotels and resorts are also gaining in popularity, and proving profitable. Along the Turkish coast, Antalya is becoming renowned for its large number of luxury Halal beach resort offerings. This year alone, five new Halal beach properties have opened in the region. In Abu Dhabi, the recently opened Burj Al Sarab is targeting the halal traveller with a no alcohol policy and separate gym and pool hours for men and women.
Further afield, properties such as the Ritz-Carlton in Dallas, New York and Washington, DC are offering their Muslim guests amenities such as Arabic-language television, Quran and prayer carpets, majlis-style suites as well as special menus with Halal food options for guests.
This month, Saudi Arabia is expected to launch its Umrah Plus programme, allowing Muslims to travel outside of Makkah, Madinah and Jeddah while on pilgrimage to the Kingdom. Under the programme, visitors will be able to visit other tourist sites and historic locations following Umrah.
By Christine Hinz
TTN is the most established trade publication in the Middle East distributed on a controlled circulation basis to members of the travel and tourism industry.
Published monthly by Al Hilal Publishing and Marketing Group, the region’s foremost trade publisher, TTN is aimed at professionals in the industry, from travel agents to airline and hotel personnel.
TTN provides in-depth and extensive coverage of relevant issues in the Middle East and North Africa as well as in other parts of the world. Travel related news, analysis, and new appointments together with information on up-coming exhibitions, marketing and promotional campaigns are presented in an innovative and striking colour tabloid.
Every issue also contains a collation of international and regional news and topical features of interest to readers.