Islamic Lifestyle

Middle East countries scramble to provide halal beach holidays as race to attract Muslim travelers intensifies

| 28 April, 2016
Heba Hashem
Middle East countries scramble to provide halal beach holidays as race to attract Muslim travelers intensifies
Photo: HURGHADA,EGYPT - JULY 9, 2012: Vacation hotel in Makadi Bay, Egypt. Beach resorts such as this one, in an Islamic country, primarily cater to Western tourists and are not necessarily outfitted for the halal-conscious traveler / Olga Vasilyeva / Shutterstock.com

The race to attract the halal-conscious Muslim traveler is intensifying as Far Eastern nations increasingly cater to halal tourism and Middle East countries scramble to provide halal beach holidays, said experts at the Arabian Travel Market 2016.

A number of ‘non-traditional’ holiday destinations are emerging as preferred options for Muslim travelers, said experts at a panel session at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai this week.

Despite having minority Muslim populations, these countries have recognized the growth potential of halal tourism and are moving quickly to meet demand.

“Vietnam, Japan, and Korea are all very interested in halal travel because they see the huge influx of [Muslims] traveling there,” said Faeez Fadhlillah, CEO and co-founder of Malaysia-based Lagisatu Travel Group, which focuses on Muslim travel with online platform Tripfez and halal travel rating system Salam Standard.

In Japan where the Muslim population is only around 0.1 percent, Kansai International Airport in Osaka has three prayer rooms, he noted.

Interests and preferences are shifting, according to Nabeel Shariff, founder and director of UK-based Serendipity Tailormade, a halal tour operator.

“We’re finding destinations that are a little off the beaten track are what’s really driving our business,” said Shariff. “Yes, the Gulf is a key part but generally, travellers from the U.S., UK and Europe are looking for somewhere new. Our top destinations are the Indian Ocean, so Seychelles, Mauritius, Maldives, as well as Thailand and Vietnam.”

LACK OF HALAL BEACHFRONT HOTELS AND RESORTS

As preferences shift for the Western traveler seeking Muslim-friendly holidays, ironically, it is the Islamic countries that may be missing out on the lucrative halal travel market, especially for beachfront hotels and resorts. The UAE is a good example.

“Dubai has a reputation globally for high-end beachfront hotels and most of them are not specifically catered to the halal market,” remarked Scott Booth, director of travel and tourism research at YouGov. “What I’m seeing from [survey] respondents is a desire for the same offering and respect of their personal religious rules at these beachfront properties.”

Bader Ahli, manager of government travel and local affairs at Dubai’s dnata Travel agreed. “There’s a huge opportunity where we can invest more and have more traffic to Dubai based on halal tourism. You create the demand by building a property which caters to Muslim-friendly tourists. You don’t wait for the traffic to come and then establish the property.”

NEW HALAL HOTELS IN THE PIPELINE

Addressing this gap, Shaza Hotels, an affiliate of Kempinski and a member of the Global Hotel Alliance. is launching its first Muslim-friendly beachfront resort, one of 12 hotels in its pipeline.

Scheduled to open in Oman’s lush town of Salalah in 2017, the property will comprise 200 rooms and 75 villas, each with a plunge pool and an optional shutter-like system for additional privacy.

The luxury hotel operator also launched a four-star brand this week called Mysk by Shaza, with its flagship hotel opening in March 2017 in Al Mouj, Muscat.

“Over the next year we’re opening six hotels: in Muscat, Salalah, Doha, Mecca, Riyadh, and a sixth one in Europe,” Chris Nader, vice president of development at Shaza Hotels, told Salaam Gateway.

'DIFFERENT HALALS' AN ISSUE

However, an issue which makes it a challenge to cater to this market goes back to the lack of a universal definition of ‘halal travel’. Even between Southeast Asian neighbors Indonesia and Malaysia, opinions tend to differ.

“When you go to a restaurant in Malaysia and you have alcohol served, that place is considered non-halal. But for Indonesians, as long as the food is halal, the venue is seen as halal,” Fadhlillah explained.

For dnata Travel, branding a product around Islamic tourism and generalizing an entire segment as halal was a challenge. “We came up with our own branding and called it ‘Muslim-friendly tourism’”, said Ahli.

Shaza Hotels encounters similar challenges when in discussions with investors over their expectations from a Muslim-friendly hotel.

“What is halal for one investor could be different for another,” said Shaza’s Nader. “What type of TV channels and entertainment do you want in the rooms? Do you want two swimming pools? Do you have the space and investment to build two pools? How do you provide privacy for families or couples?”

The experts pointed to Turkey’s successful model of having separate beaches for women and men. Although the layout is still not ideal as it lacks a family-friendly beach where parents can come together with their children, these properties claim to operate at full occupancy all year round.

“The Turkish hotels are unique in their concept; they have almost 100 percent occupancy but it’s mainly from the local market,” noted Shariff.

“For developers looking at halal tourism, especially in Muslim countries, you have a huge base right under your nose. Turkey’s resorts have done well in the fact that most of their guests are from other parts of the country. Istanbul doesn’t have great beaches; Antalya is a perfect fit for that.”

Morocco could take the same idea as many locals travel within the country nowadays, Shariff added. “So there’s potential there to kick off a 60-70 percent occupancy rate just from your local market.”

© SalaamGateway.com 2016