Photo: Tourists from the Middle East take pictures at Vrelo Bosne nature park in Ilidza near Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, August 19, 2016. Picture taken August 19, 2016. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
Muslim travellers, including a generation of millennials, are discovering and are being discovered by new destinations and properties, as Muslim-friendly travel becomes more organised and grows on firmer footing globally.
Muslim-friendly travel has seen a widely varied year. On the one hand, politically charged events have cast a shadow on Muslim travel; on the other, several non-Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries are laying out the red carpet for the Muslim traveller, even as recognised destinations update their offerings.
Key market players say that, propelled by imaginative new itineraries and products, business is growing fast. More properties are adding halal to their offering and established halal brands are expanding into newer markets.
Faeez Fadhlillah, CEO and co-founder of the Malaysia-based Muslim-friendly travel booking site Tripfez and halal hospitality rating system Salam Standard, told Salaam Gateway that growth has exceeded estimates. “In 2017, we expect to see a 300 per cent growth in terms of revenue, which is surpassing our expectations. In terms of hotels uptake of Salam Standard, we have currently indexed more than 55,000 hotels worldwide across 50 countries, with the aim of reaching 100,000 by the end of 2018.”
Largely digital, other halal travel sites also report increased visitor numbers and better revenue.
“We have grown a lot. The Halaltrip brand is growing fast and we plan to build on it so it will have both B2B and B2C,” Fazal Bahardeen, CEO of CrescentRating, HalalTrip and Muslim Travel Warehouse told Salaam Gateway.
“Our revenues are driven by CrescentRating and traffic is driven by HalalTrip. We’ve seen considerable growth in both in the last 12 months. Traffic has more than doubled. And we’ve seen a 30 per cent growth year-on-year in revenue,” Bahardeen added.
He told Salaam Gateway that Muslim Travel Warehouse, a B2B portal, will be merged with HalalTrip from January 1, 2018.
HalalBooking also reports growth. The company’s chief marketing officer, Ufuk Seçgin, told Salaam Gateway there is wide-ranging interest from hotels to make themselves available to the growing demand for Muslim-friendly travel.
“We now have 400 to 500 properties in 28 countries, and the number keeps growing every day. By the end of 2018, we aim to have between 2,000 and 5,000 hotels listed with us.”
HalalBooking doesn’t use Muslim-friendly hospitality standards CrescentRating or Salam Standard but vets properties on the basis of a questionnaire that covers similar considerations such as food choices, whether alcohol is served and dedicated times or areas for women at the pool or beach areas.
Of all the properties listed on HalalBooking that are doing well, Seçgin said, the common feature has been pool facilities for women, connected perhaps to the increased focus during the year on modest sportswear.
“Travellers want properties which offer specific facilities for ladies and for men. Properties that offer the whole package are more successful,” Seçgin said.
“The younger generation wants to observe the religion but also experience the world, and that includes being able to swim,” he added.
YOUNG MUSLIM TRAVELLER
Millennial Muslim travellers are disrupting the marketplace by demanding to have fun while staying religiously compliant.
Reflecting the industry’s preoccupation with this fast-growing segment, the Mastercard-HalalTrip Muslim Millennial Travel Report 2017 (MMTR2017), launched in October, projected that total expenditure from Muslim millennial travellers as a segment will surpass $100 billion by 2025.
CrescentRating estimates that more than 30 per cent of Muslim travellers in 2016 were millennials with another 30 per cent belonging to Gen Z, the demographic cohort after the millennials.
One of the findings of the report was that the majority of Muslim millennials are avid travellers who travel between two and five times a year (46 per cent) and for an average of four to six days per trip (41 per cent).
“It shows that Muslim millennials are no different and that destinations should look at embracing that segment. They have been a pretty important enabler of growth,” Bahardeen said.
The Mastercard-HalalTrip Muslim Millennial Travel Report 2017 said the top 10 most visited destinations by Muslim millennials were Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand, Australia, Singapore, UAE, UK, US and India.
Source markets too have been expanding. Seçgin said his source markets remained centred in the Middle East and Europe, but customers come from more than 75 countries.
TripFez’s Fadhlillah said that while the traditional universe of halal or Muslim-friendly travel was considered the Middle East both in terms of origin and destination, this is now changing, with source markets originating in other Muslim-majority countries and regions like Malaysia or Indonesia, North and Central Africa and from nations with a large Muslim population like India and China, along with Western countries with large and wealthy Muslim populations.
“The market has become even bigger and more heterogeneous,” Fadhlillah said, adding that travellers from India and China will wield a lot of influence in future.
“The number of Muslim travellers from those two very large economies is highly underestimated and their influence in shaping the Muslim travel landscape will increase significantly in the coming decade,” Fadhlillah added.
The United States has always been a major destination for Muslim travellers but President Trump’s executive order issued in January, which limits entry into the U.S. to citizens from several Muslim-majority countries, likely affected the perception of the nation as Muslim-friendly.
Although it was only on December 4 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the third edition of the stalled travel ban would be allowed to go into effect while the issue is litigated in lower courts, international arrivals to the country dropped 3.9 per cent during the first six months of 2017, compared to the same period in the previous year, according to data released by the US National Travel and Tourism Office and the US Department of Commerce.
The largest regional drops were from the Middle East (down 29.8 per cent), Africa (down 27 per cent), South America (down 13.9 per cent) and Eastern Europe (down 13.8 per cent).
The U.S. scored high among non-OIC destinations on the MasterCard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2015, which ranked it eighth. This year, it dropped to ninth as other non-Islamic destinations increased their efforts to attract the Muslim traveller.
Japan, South Africa, South Korea, Spain and Taiwan are among the nations actively wooing the halal and Muslim traveller.
Japan moved up two places to sixth among non-Islamic countries on the Global Muslim Travel Index 2017 and Spain entered the top 10 of the same list for the first time.
Taiwan is also aggressively wooing the Muslim traveller as part of the wider halal market. The government already runs Halal Taiwan, an annual trade show to promote locally made products and services. The Global Muslim Travel Index 2017 identified Taiwan as the safest destination for Muslims outside the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries and it emerged as the seventh most popular destination among 130 non-OIC nations.
“Japan will reach one million [Muslim] visitors much more quickly than what we had anticipated when we did our first Japan report in 2014. We expect them to surpass 1.4 million by 2030,” said Bahardeen. The Mastercard-CrescentRating Japan Muslim Travel Index 2017, launched in November, said Muslim arrivals to Japan increased from around 150,000 in 2004 to 700,000 in 2016.
Bahardeen said more than 20 restaurants in Japan are rated by CrescentRating and more than 100 in Taiwan.
“We have been contacted by a number of travel operators who want to work with us in Japan and South Korea. They are getting easier to travel in [for Muslim tourists],” he said.
Many other destinations are also seriously addressing the needs of the halal traveller. “They realise there is a market and need talent that understands it. Cape Town Tourism, for example, has adopted our Chef Accreditation Programme. They may replicate it in other parts of Africa as well,” Bahardeen said.
In January this year, South Africa’s National Department of Tourism told Salaam Gateway it was targeting Muslim-majority countries to attract more tourists, and it would promote the country as a Muslim-friendly destination.
With lifestyle changes made possible in part by the growth of Muslim-friendly sports attire, other options such as ski holidays, cruise tourism, and yes, hijab-free holidays, are all making an appearance on the periphery.
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