DUBAI - Halal travel pioneer CrescentRating picked 17 trends to watch in a report it released in January. Last week during the Global Halal Tourism Summit in Dubai, other experts expand on key movements in a sector they say is very quickly evolving.
Outside of the pilgrimage sector, they say new experiences, sustainable tourism, and homestays are some of the big trends that a growing number of Muslim consumers are looking for.
What’s new is new experiences outside of traditional hotels.
A big trend in the Muslim travel market is resorts that provide privacy, halal facilities and entertaining experiences. It is a mix that’s not easy to find, said Chris Nader, vice president of “dry”, or alcohol-free luxury hotel Shaza.
“Muslim travelers are no longer looking for ‘just a hotel’; they want to know what the hotel can offer in terms of experiences,” said Nader, whose Shaza Hotels manages properties in Makkah, Madina, Jeddah, Riyadh, Sharjah, Doha and Salalah.
Having established its brand in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Shaza Hotels is expanding to other Muslim travel markets, developing resorts in Egypt and Turkey, and negotiating projects in Morocco, the UK, and the Andalusia region.
In Indonesia, the company is developing two resorts on the island of Lombok next to Bali, one for Shaza and one for its upscale line Mysk, and is currently raising equity for these projects, according to Nader.
“In the past, if there was a hotel that didn’t serve alcohol and offered halal food and prayer facilities everyone would run to stay there, because nobody was doing it. Today there are so many options, especially in Asia, so you have to bring something new.”
According to Nader, Shaza is working on two projects in the UAE emirate of Sharjah to provide a spa experience from where visitors can access archaeology and history, camping on a mountain, and going back down to the spa in a 4x4 or on a horse, or staying in a private tent in front of the dunes.
Another new experience that’s an alternative to traditional hotels is the homestay.
Rafi-Uddin Shikoh, CEO and managing director of advisory firm DinarStandard, has observed homestays as a growing trend among Muslim travelers.
“Homestays are a new trend in Indonesia, targeting the western Muslim audience. Experiential travel is especially trending in Indonesia, a destination which is all about experiences,” said Shikoh.
DinarStandard works with the Indonesian governnment to position the country as a leading Muslim-friendly or halal destination.
One company tapping into the homestay market is Muzbnb, a Muslim-friendly version of Airbnb that has 158 listings around the world, including in the United States, Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia. The hospitality marketplace allows travelers to search for rentals featuring halal food, alcohol- and pork-free homes, as well as showing nearby mosques and restaurants.
Another key trend overlapping with the search for new accommodation experiences is sustainable tourism.
There is a growing interest in sustainable tourism within the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)— which comprises 57 Muslim-majority countries– a trend linked to halal tourism given its ethical underpinning, according to Shikoh.
The rise of sustainable tourism has captured the interest of Muslim travelers, who are increasingly looking for eco-friendly hotels and destinations.
“From a guest standpoint, we’re seeing a lot of interest in sustainable travel across social media discussions and in the key searches they do when they’re looking to book a hotel or checking out destinations,” said Shaza’s Nader.
Shaza Hotels recently signed an agreement with Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) to manage three retreats - Kingfisher Lodge in Kalba, which opened in March, and Al Badayer Oasis and Al Faya Lodge, which will open later in 2019. These eco-friendly destinations under the ‘Sharjah Collection’ brand will be operated by the group’s upscale Mysk by Shaza brand.
According to Nader, Kingfisher Lodge comprises 20 tents with private swimming pools, spread across an eco-reserve on the Omani coast. In this natural, plastic-free environment, animals come to breed, and guests can see the raw nature of Sharjah.
“We’re getting a lot of positive feedback from guests who are happy to find a resort that’s embracing their values, giving them privacy, and allowing them to connect with nature. The whole of Sharjah is dry so being alcohol-free is not a special feature. These are the added values we have to think about when developing new destinations,” said Nader.
WHAT WORDS TO USE FOR MARKETING?
While consumer trends are quickly evolving, within the Muslim-friendly travel industry itself, professionals are still debating the best terminology to use to identify or describe the sector to reach different stakeholders.
Some refer to it as Muslim-friendly travel, others call it ‘halal travel’ or ‘family-friendly travel’, while others prefer not to use any specific labels. Many use the terms interchangeably.
In fashion, the industry has gone past the labeling dilemma. Today, no one calls it halal fashion or Muslim fashion or even Islamic fashion; it has become accepted as ‘modest fashion’.
“Fashion has dealt with the labeling issue very effectively where it’s completely mainstream. Initially there was a struggle on what to call it, but it’s settled to become the globally accepted trend of modest fashion, bringing in the wider thinking around modest fashion,” said DinarStandard’s Shikoh.
In the travel sector, ‘halal’ and ‘Muslim-friendly’ are accepted from an industry point of view, but from a consumer perspective, it’s largely demographically-driven.
For example, western Muslims are comfortable calling it ‘halal travel’ and are looking for that, while the Middle East audience is not, said Shikoh. “In the GCC, the halal label doesn’t work; the positioning is more ‘family-friendly travel’,” said Shikoh.
“In fact, it is a turn-off to this audience when you call your destination ‘halal’. We saw it in Indonesia clearly - a lot of hospitality brands are not explicitly calling it halal; their proposition is addressing it but not in your face,” he added.
Brands should ideally use what their customers are comfortable with; however, the industry still needs a label. “What we see in our space when talking to the investment community is that you need to give it a label,” said Shaza Hotels’ Nader.
“They need to understand what you’re talking about, whether it’s halal or halal-friendly,” said Nader.
“When we’re talking to our guests, they need to know that those values or facilities or services are available, but they don’t want to see that branding in their face everywhere. So, we have to take a cultural or wellness approach to things.”
(Reporting by Heba Hashem; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim firstname.lastname@example.org)
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