Photo: Muslim tourists at the Jeju International Airport in South Korea on October 5, 2019. Islam Somai/Shutterstock

Islamic Lifestyle Halal Industry

Malaysia turns to soft power to open up Korean halal, Muslim-friendly market

KUALA LUMPUR - While more than 250,000 halal industry professionals have now received halal industry training in the last dozen years, hundreds more will undergo courses in South Korea through a new partnership between Malaysia’s Halal Development Corporation (HDC) and a local halal research institute.

The soft power agreement was signed in Kuala Lumpur today to promote halal production, enhance Korean hospitality services for Muslims and “establish Seoul as a Muslim-friendly city”.

HDC’s collaboration with the Korea Institute of Halal Industry (KIHI) is the latest push eastwards, despite frustrations in Japan, where its hopes to use the Tokyo Olympics as a vehicle for promoting Malaysia’s halal message were badly dashed by the pandemic.

“We hope that this very strategic collaboration in Korea will open up business opportunities among our industry players with more than 170 targeted Korean companies within two years, from manufacturers to eateries and spas,” said Norazman Ayob, deputy secretary general of Malaysia’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry, at the announcement.

Muslim-friendly hospitality has become the foundation for HDC’s push into East Asia in recent years, due to growth in the number of Muslim tourist arrivals to the region.

The segment refers to hotels, restaurants, airlines and resorts that are sparing with alcohol, offer food with halal certificates and provide prayer rooms and separate facilities for women.

While stopping short of formal halal certification, Malaysian Standard 2610 has designed a universal approach for the tourism industry that caters for Muslim travellers.

For the first time in 2019, over 1 million Muslims visited Korea, out of a total of 17.5 million tourists, prompting the Korean tourism authorities to court more.

“The Korea Tourism Organisation is now operating a Muslim-friendly restaurant classification programme to promote the convenience of Muslims travelling to Korea,” said Dr James Noh, president of KIHI.

“For this reason, it can be seen that the perception of halal or Muslim-friendly restaurants has spread to some extent. However, except for restaurants, Muslim-friendly awareness is lacking in other hospitality industry segments such as accommodation, tourist destinations, and package tours,” he told Salaam Gateway.

Since Malaysians contribute the largest share of Muslims to Korea's hospitality industry, it is important to introduce Malaysian standards. To this end, KIHI intends to provide a Muslim-friendly service evaluation programme for the Korean hospitality industry.

“As the first stage of this project, we will launch an education project together with HDC to raise awareness of Muslim-friendly services in the Korean hospitality industry,” said Dr Noh.

“In the second stage, we plan to implement a Muslim-friendly service evaluation project targeting Korean hospitality service providers. Through this, we expect to create a substantial Muslim-friendly service environment in Korea’s hospitality industry by the second half of 2022 or the first half of 2023, when Muslim tourism is expected to recover."

For its part, HDC hopes the agreement will open up opportunities for Malaysian companies with more than 170 targeted Korean companies over two years. It will include projects to enhance trade, exchange market intelligence, promote investment in Malaysia’s halal parks and lead to co-organised halal-related events.

The starting point of the partnership will involve training for Korean businesses about Muslim-friendly services, according to Adly bin Mohamed, HDC’s chief commercial officer.

Speaking to Salaam Gateway, he said Malaysia’s trainers are like “Marines landing on shore”. Once established, this expeditionary party will open doors to other halal services.

“The first part of the deal is to teach the Koreans about Muslim-friendly guidelines over two-day training courses. There will also be training on halal fundamentals, audits and plenty of other things. The step after that is to teach halal competency and governance,” he added.


Since HDC began training halal workers and auditors in 2008, over 60,000 students have graduated from its courses locally and the number who have been trained internationally has exceeded a quarter of a million, comprising a wide range of companies and individuals.

The pandemic has provided an unexpected boon for training. While HDC’s own trainers and third-party teachers were struggling to keep up with demand for their physical sessions, lockdowns forced sessions to take place virtually, increasing class sizes.

“Our trainers would only have been able to stay in Malaysia long enough to check in for their next flight, otherwise. But because of all the lockdowns and travel restrictions, we have managed to do live-streaming more than we would normally do. It would have been impossible otherwise,” said Adly.

“It’s a long-term approach that has come from the pandemic. When things do get back to normal, certain items like live-streaming will still be popular. There are clients who demand a physical presence, but digitalisation will allow us to have better outreach and better capture of the market.”

Nor Azlina binti Mustafa Kamal is one of many people who have embarked on such training plans. As Malaysia was getting used to lockdowns last year, she embarked on the intensive Halal Executive Programme training, enticed by its promise to expand her career.

The director of her family’s frozen food business in Subang Jaya saw the potential, after her qualification, to travel as a qualified auditor to other countries to assess companies’ halal operations while being paid for it.

“After doing this course, I could even do consulting or be a halal guide for other companies wanting to set up or level up their business,” she told Salaam Gateway.

“During lockdown, they cut the price so it cost next to nothing. It was a no-brainer—what else did I have to do?”


The pandemic has also shifted HDC’s focus from Japan to Korea. Much had been made over the last three years about the corporation’s plans to give Malaysia a strong foothold in Japan’s nascent halal industry in the expectation that millions of tourists would visit the country to follow the Olympic games.

Travel restrictions and a year-long delay to the games put paid to that initiative, but the time has been spent courting other parts of East Asia, reflected by today’s South Korea agreement.

“Before the pandemic, the Japanese were all over us, wanting halal food and halal systems, but with the pandemic and scaling down of the Olympics, that changed, though there is still a desire,” said Adly.

“The thing is, everybody understands that we are talking about a $3 trillion halal business that cover the whole world. I guesstimate that of that, only 20% of that business is being done by Muslims.

“So now we are engaging heavily with China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, and plenty more will follow,” Adly added.

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