The secretary-general’s office of the International Halal Accreditation Forum (Ihaf) in Dubai recently announced that it had started the groundwork for the world’s first halal international accreditation network. Ihaf is the first international accreditation entity related to halal to be based in the UAE. Following the approval of its by-law, Ihaf will expand its multi-lateral agreements with major food and product exporting countries.
Although Ihaf does not deal with the travel industry directly, it is only a matter of time before halal travel standardisation surfaces as an important challenge that needs to be addressed.
'The rate of growth witnessed in the halal market shows that by 2030 it can be the biggest industry in the world. However, although halal standards and processes are based on the universal principles and teachings of Islam, the halal industry is yet to use one universal set of determinants and one all-encompassing mark,' Mohamed Saleh Badri, secretary-general of Ihaf, said.
'More than a hundred halal marks are currently being used all over the globe. Ihaf’s ultimate mission is to unify halal criteria and halal practices and generate a global agreement among the authorities that would ease the flow of halal goods between countries and create a halal market consumers can trust,' he added.
Abdulaziz Al Habib, president of Saudi Arabia-based Al Khozama Management Company, points out one of the major challenges in the halal travel industry. 'The problem is that the term [halal travel] itself is ill-defined. The interpretation of that phrase varies from one person or another. There is no global convention that says what is halal and what is not, and even to what degree a certain activity is halal. Until there is a convention, this confusion will persist. Since halal is a concept based on fitness, some people will see smoking as not being halal. So, as hoteliers it’s hard to know where to draw the line.'
Mostafa El Enany, regional director of hotel sales, GCC & Levant, Accor Hotels Middle East, mirrors this opinion saying that the concept of halal is a big confusion in the hotel industry. 'In the GCC, halal facilities come as a default, we are obliged to keep the Koran in the rooms and point the Kibla direction. When we talk about outbound business going from the region to outside, we don’t have anybody to certify if a hotel is halal or not. And I don’t think this will ever happen either, it is not possible for any organisation to come forth and claim that a certain hotel is halal or not. Who can differentiate between what is halal and what is haram? Only God.'
El Enany adds: 'We see that the term adds a lot of confusion to the business so we have removed the word halal. We have different concepts that we use instead, for instance, family-friendly, dry hotels. We have started a dry hotel concept in partnership with R Hotels and with Action Hotels, in different places in the region – Kuwait, Muscat and Marjan Island.'
The other question to ask is if we should use the word halal today to promote a hotel or service, especially in the context of what’s happening around the world?
Al Habib says of the expanding Al Khozama hotel pipeline: 'Our concept is based around health. We believe in the wellness type of hospitality that appeals to all segments and it has proved very successful.' Al Khozama Management Company will open its Dubai office in Business Bay to spearhead sales and new development in the region.
By Rashi Sen
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