Photo for illustrative purposes only: Pandu and Dian, tourists from Indonesia, jump for a souvenir photograph taken by their friend in front of the Houses of Parliament, during a snowfall in central London January 20, 2013. Reuters/Olivia Harris
JAKARTA – 28 travel agencies in Indonesia have joined forces to expand their product range and promote Muslim-friendly travel for Indonesians to non-Muslim destinations, Priyadi Abadi, chairman of the new consortium told Salaam Gateway.
Indonesia’s travel agencies primarily equate halal or Muslim-friendly travel only with Muslim-majority countries, especially Saudi Arabia for pilgrimages. Other destinations they normally combine with umrah include Istanbul, Dubai and Jerusalem.
“We want to open their eyes that it is possible to run halal tour packages to non-Muslim countries. Some countries like Japan and Korea as well as Taiwan even have halal hotels and restaurants,” Abadi told Salaam Gateway.
The new consortium, called Muslim Holiday, will promote destinations such as Australia, the Balkan states, Japan, Korea, the Scandinavian countries, Spain, and the United States.
The goal is to highlight the halal or Muslim-friendly facilities and amenities in these non-Muslim countries, especially availability of halal food and prayer rooms.
“At Muslim Holiday, we use the routes that we already know, for example, which hotels provide prayer rooms, or which restaurants serve halal food,” said Abadi.
“We also collaborate with Indonesian Muslims overseas, for example in Switzerland and Germany, where they inform us where we can get halal food especially with an Indonesian taste, for example with rice,” he added.
According to Abadi, currently only 20 percent of the 906 registered umrah travel agencies in Indonesia promote non-Muslim destinations.
“The number of travel agencies that provide halal tour packages is too low,” he said, adding that many umrah tour agencies operate only within their “comfort zone” of religious tourism.
Abadi estimates that with around 800,000 to 900,000 Indonesian umrah pilgrims each year, the market is worth around 160 trillion to 180 trillion Indonesian rupiah ($12.97 billion). The ministry of religious affairs has set the minimum price for umrah packages at 20 million rupiah per pilgrim.
As an indication of returns, according to Abadi, who also runs halal tour agency Adinda Azzahra, his company can manage around 200 to 300 travelers each tour, with a profit margin of around 20 percent. This margin narrows if the rupiah depreciates against the U.S. dollar.
Indonesia’s ministry of religious affairs recently revamped its oversight of umrah operators after a major scam defrauded would-be pilgrims of around $60 million. The husband and wife team of Andika Surachman and modest fashion designer Anniesa Hasibuan were sentenced to 20- and 18-year prison terms, respectively.
($1 = 13,879.25 Indonesian rupiah)
(Reporting by Yosi Winosa; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim firstname.lastname@example.org)
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