Halal tourism is not just halal food and facilities but there is a lot to offer and explore, according to an industry expert. Halal tourism is around 10 per cent of the total travel market at the moment but its growing fast, founder of Sandala Journeys Suhail Shaikh told Khaleej Times during an interview.
Last year, there were an estimated 117 million Muslim visitor arrivals globally, representing close to 10 per cent of the entire travel market.
This is forecasted to grow to 168 million visitors by 2020 the equivalent of 11 per cent of the market segment with a market value projected to exceed $200 billion, according to data and analysis from the inaugural MasterCard-CrescentRating report.
Shaikh says Sandala Journeys, halal tourism startup, looks at new universal niches to expand market. “We would want to define ourselves as an IT-enabled halal tourism brand. Our key offering would include halal friendly holidays,” the founder explained. Sandala Journeys recently opened its first office in Sharjah and will open branches in other emirates soon.
Below are the excerpts from the interview:
What’s the concept behind halal tourism?
I think the conventional conceptual understanding of halal tourism can be limiting. The question is, should halal tourism be understood as an exclusive and restricted offering for Muslim travellers? halal tourism is evolving beyond its routine concepts and it may not be just making sure customers have access to halal food and facilities alone.
While the broad and mandated framework of Shariah remains, a much wider view of halal tourism is emerging. This is what Sandala Journeys wants to capitalise on.
For us, halal tourism is also about discovering heritage, culture and history of the Islamic world – and such a positioning opens up the market to include non-Muslims as well. From Guangzhou to Samarkand, from Konya to Córdoba, there is so much to discover for anyone and everyone who are keen to explore our collective human experience and history.
Do non-Muslims understand halal tourism?
From the perspective of an expanding business with significant potential, I would say yes, but there are miles to go before countries and communities have a clear understanding of what entails halal tourism ecosystem entails. There are places within one continent where halal – in terms of food, custom or tourism – is not at all understood, while within the same geography, there are places where there is a robust awareness. I would like to mention a friend’s experience in a West African country. He asked a restaurant if they served halal food and the owner of the outlet sought to clarify if `halal’ was a specific bird. But, in South Africa; in a city like Cape Town, the awareness on the principles of halal is so high that halal food is commonly available and restaurants are categorised as halal and ‘halal friendly,’ the latter where halal food is also served among others.
It may need more effort on the part of the halal tourism industry to create awareness among non-Muslims on what halal tourism has to offer. I am confident that the principles, the offerings, and the excitement around it can be built and effectively communicated leading to halal tourism becoming one of the choices for the traveler regardless of his race, religion or nationality.
How big is the market?
If you go by research commissioned by travel industry majors, global halal tourism by 2020 would be to the tune of about 150 million visitors spending roughly $200 billion. That’s big for a concept which has found voice only in the last decade. For a small startup like us what is more meaningful is to get the product right and build our own blue ocean over time.
What is Sandala Journeys?
We would want to define ourselves as an IT enabled halal tourism brand. Our key offering would include halal friendly holidays. We believe that there is tremendous potential to offer halal tourism to the millennials and to those travelers who identify themselves with the new age consumption patterns.
The UAE is a significant market for us in this sense as consumers are used to high levels of customer service and professionalism and Sandala Journeys is all about this empowerment which makes all that is relevant to halal travel accessible without any hassle. We don’t even need to do anything radically different to make it possible. What matters is the simplicity of ideas, of action and delivery, and doing things a little different and a lot better.
How do you plan to do that?
For a start we are focusing on three key areas – one, create a professional brand with consistently high levels of customer service. Two, invest in building Sandala Journeys as an IT-enabled business to ensure easy and simple user experience. That means we will ensure our online customers, be it from Reykjavik or Rourkela, have the same seamless experience. Third is partnering or working with those who share our vision of halal tourism.
Originally published on www.khaleejtimes.com