Islamic Lifestyle 

Muslim tourists likely to avoid U.S. in near future - halal travel experts

| 08 November, 2016
 Wardah Khalid
Muslim tourists likely to avoid U.S. in near future - halal travel experts
Photo: TURKEY - SEP 24, 2015: Muslim women on vacation in Turkey. As a Muslim-friendly/halal destination, Turkey is ranked in the top 3 on CrescentRating's Global Muslim Travel Index and Thomson Reuters' Global Islamic Economy Index

Thanks in part to record high levels of Islamophobia and hate crimes, the United States can expect fewer travelers from the Islamic world in the near future, say Muslim-friendly travel experts.

Islamophobia has been a consistent theme during the 2016 presidential election, no doubt contributing to the nearly 200 incidents of anti-Muslim violence and vandalism that occurred last year. This year has been just as scary for American Muslims as well as Muslims abroad deciding where to spend their vacations.

“We’re used to seeing travel warnings to countries facing civil unrest or terrorism threats, but for the first time this year, I came across travel warnings from the UAE and Bahrain advising caution when traveling to the U.S. after incidents of violence against Muslims as well as anti-police protests because of the killing of unarmed black men,” said Reem El Shafaki, DinarStandard Senior Associate specializing in Muslim-friendly travel.

The UAE’s travel warning cautioned visitors to “refrain from wearing the national dress” to ensure their safety after an Emirati tourist wearing traditional dress was arrested at gunpoint in Ohio, outside of a hotel entrance while speaking on the phone in Arabic.

Huda Khalid and Zain Haq, co-founders of Muslim Travelers, which focuses on millennial Muslim travelers, heard similar sentiments during their travels around the world.

“We frequently get messages from hijabi Muslim women in particular who want to visit the U.S. but are concerned for their safety,” Khalid said. “Our usual response is that there are millions of Muslims living here and most Americans are very open-minded and friendly, especially in big cities like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. It’s the smaller cities and more rural areas they may want to avoid.”

Haq said that travel to the U.S. was already on the decline because of the recent oil slump and a stronger U.S. dollar--for the first 10 months of the year, international arrivals were down 2.3 percent and travel spending was down 0.8 percent, from the same period last year--but Haq believes the elections made it worse.

“Regardless of whoever becomes president, Muslims around the world don't feel as safe to travel to the U.S. anymore due to Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric and unexpected popularity,” he said.

Travel companies, responding to client needs, have followed suit.

“One travel company told me they were planning to add U.S. trips to their portfolio but put a halt to it because of the increasing Islamophobia and are focusing on other countries instead,” El Shafaki said.

However, Fazal Bahardeen, CEO of CrescentRating, said only a small percentage of Muslims visit the U.S. and he is hopeful the elections won’t derail their travel too much.

“The travel industry is probably the most competitive in the world,” said Bahardeen. “Just because Muslims can’t spend money in the U.S. doesn’t mean they’ll stop spending. There are lots of other countries that will welcome them, and who wants to spend a holiday in a country that doesn’t?”

According to Bahardeen only 2 percent of Muslim travelers visit America. In 2014, they numbered 2.6 million resulting in expenditures of about $8 billion. By 2020, that number will increase to 4.5 million visitors spending about $13 billion with an impact of $30 billion. (CrescentRating competitor Salam Standard recently released its own study that puts the U.S. share of global Muslim tourism spend at almost $35 billion last year.)

The remainder of Muslim travelers, who largely originate from the GCC, Southeast Asia, Western Europe, Iran, and Turkey, go to Asia and Europe.

“Europe and Asia are closer proximity to the countries where Muslim travelers originate from and Asian destinations in particular have been actively courting them.”

To tap into the $151 billion Muslim travel industry requires offering family-friendly destinations, halal dining options, prayer spaces, and safe travel, at the least. Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey are the countries that rank highly on both CrescentRating’s Global Muslim Travel Index and Thomson Reuters’ Global Islamic Economy Index.

It remains to be seen whether the U.S. will become more welcoming after the presidential election and anti-Muslim bigotry recedes, as they do each election cycle. For now, it appears that tourists from the Islamic world are looking elsewhere for their next holiday. 

Wardah Khalid is a writer, speaker, and analyst on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and Muslim American issues. Follow her on Twitter @wardahkhalid_.

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