Islamic/Muslim travel is going beyond halal meals and prayer mats with the sector set to grow by 35% over the next few years to approximately $300 billion. Hoteliers eager to grow this market must provide the necessary atmosphere and services, experts said.
SINGAPORE—Halal tourism is among the fastest-growing segments in the tourism industry, and hoteliers must make sure they’re considering the needs of Muslim travelers to make the most of the trend, sources said.
By 2026, halal tourism is expected to include 230 million travelers and generate $300 billion, a 35% increase from today, according to a recent study from Mastercard.
Speaking at the recent ITB Asia conference, Sheikh Awadh Sheikh Abdullah, defined halal tourism as any “tourism product providing hospitality services that comply with Islamic law.”
Besides the obvious requirement for halal food and prayer facilities, hoteliers should also make sure their properties have water-friendly washrooms, policies of social responsibility, access to Ramadan services and local Muslim experiences, recreational spaces with privacy and no non-halal services, he said.
It is also important for Muslim travelers to be armed with informative halal travel guides catering to Muslims, according to Bambang Hartono, CEO of Kediri, Indonesia-based Smile Holiday Tour & Travel Indonesia.
“These should cover tourism sites related to Islamic history, not contrary to Islamic principles, the location of mosques and prayer rooms and places that provide a variety of foods that have been halal-certified by the Halal Certification Institute,” Hartono said.
He also gave examples of cruise ships that announce prayer timings and religious programs as part of the entertainment.
“Halal tourism is a tourism demand based on the lifestyle of Muslim tourists during holidays. It is flexible, rational, simple and balanced tourism,” Hartono said.
Sources said Muslim travelers do not leave their faith behind when they travel.
“The goal of halal tourism is to understand diversity and faith, enabling Muslims to travel at ease while remaining spiritual (and connecting) travelers and industry experts to share experiences, culture and heritage,” Sheikh Awadh said. “Halal tourism also aims to create new opportunities by increasing commerce, innovation and trade industry, and at the same time it reinforces responsibility on the sector to create sustainable tourism.”
Countries that either have Islam at its state religion or have sizable populations of Muslim residents are more likely to comply with the standards of halal tourism, sources said.
One region reaching out to cater to this tourism segment is the Australian state of Western Australia. Australia is not a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which consists of 57 countries.
Ava Ang, Tourism Western Australia’s country head for Singapore and Malaysia, said it’s important to share facilities with this growing segment of visitors.
She cited a Christian church in the city of Freemantle that for the last eight years has shared its space for Muslim worship, allowing travelers to use its space for Friday prayers, the most important day of prayers for Muslims. She said hoteliers should be made aware of this service for their guests.
Richard Ong, GM of the Parkroyal on Kitchener Road, Singapore, said his hotel—located in the city-state’s Little India district and a 10-minute walk from the Abdul Gafoor Mosque and many Indian-Muslim establishments—is well-situated to cater to Muslim guests.
“Associates … point our guests to the best halal restaurants in the vicinity. We understand the needs of our Muslim guests with a kibla sign, Muslim prayer mat and Quran on request,” he said.
Kibla, also translated as qibla, is the direction in which the holiest city of Islam, Mecca, lies and thus the direction in which Muslims need to pray.
“During Ramadan, the fasting month, the hotel offers dates popular for breaking fast and a menu for sahur, the pre-dawn meal for in-room dining,” Ong added.
The Mastercard-Crescent Rating Global Muslim Travel Index 2019 lists the top 10 Muslim destinations of Muslim travelers as:
- Saudi Arabia;
- United Arab Emirates;
- Uzbekistan; and
The top 10 non-Muslim destinations of Muslim travelers are:
- United Kingdom; and
Hoteliers in these locations must tailor programs to attract these guests, sources said.
Sheikh Awadh reiterated the need to be aligned to authentic experiences in terms of guests discovering new destinations and local cuisine and in the flexibility of itineraries.
He added hoteliers and other hospitality providers needed to build up more awareness of their products at conference and seminars and via sales and marketing programs.
Sheikh Awadh said how hotels are measured in terms of their halal and Islamic credentials can be a challenge and urged hoteliers to get suitable advice on how to properly implement necessary changes.