As the allure of Islamic holidays transforms into an industry approaching a trillion dirham valuation, hotels are pivoting to cater to the preferences of Muslim travelers. One such destination that’s embracing this trend is Sharjah, renowned among Muslim families for its halal-friendly environment and diverse attractions.
A Personal Touch: Bayan Tawfiq, a practicing Muslim, recounts her experience when checking into hotels; she requests that all alcoholic beverages be removed from her room. She expresses a preference for traveling to Islamic countries where she doesn’t have to peruse menus with a magnifying glass to ascertain whether ingredients are halal. “I gravitate towards places where my dietary requests or attire don’t invite odd glances,” says Tawfiq, who dons a hijab.
The Market: Crescentrating, a company focusing on the development of the halal tourism segment, reveals that the industry was valued at approximately $130 billion or 12.5% of the total global outbound tourism market in 2012. It forecasts that by 2020, this figure will surge to $200 billion. Moreover, a recent report by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry indicates that family tourism, closely associated with halal tourism, is expected to reach over Dh665 billion within the next four years.
GCC’s Significant Role: Despite its relatively small population, the GCC contributes to an astounding 31% of total spending by travelers on tourism-related activities. The region’s commitment to promoting halal tourism is notable.
Sharjah’s Offering: Khalid Jasim Al Midfa, Director-General of Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority, emphasizes the diversity of experiences the UAE can provide. He remarks, “We have an eclectic mix encompassing seven destinations,” referring to the plethora of attractions offered by the seven emirates. In Sharjah, 37% of hotel guests hail from the GCC. The emirate is a dry region without clubs or shisha cafés, offering a family-friendly environment. Al Midfa clarifies that although Sharjah is not a religious destination per se, it boasts a rich tapestry of museums, Islamic architecture, and mosques, along with a year-round calendar of events including the Sharjah Festival of Lights, Sharjah International Book Fair, and the Water Festival. The emirate was awarded the title of Capital of Islamic Culture by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states and is gearing up for grand celebrations.
Dubai’s Adaptation: In Dubai, family-friendly hotels that adhere to halal standards are on the rise. The Taj Palace Hotel pioneered this trend as the first five-star property in Dubai in 2001, serving no alcohol and having no clubs. Asser Samy, Director of Sales and Marketing at the Taj Palace, notes that the concept has been adopted by more UAE hotel chains. Al Jawhara Gardens Hotel in Deira, which also abstains from serving alcohol, allows exclusive use of the pool, gym, and sauna facilities to families. Hani Lashin, Group General Manager of Al Jawhara Hotels, reports that there is a high demand from families and women who wear the hijab.
Profitability and Growth: Contrary to a common belief that halal hotels can’t be as profitable as those that offer alcohol, Lashin disagrees. Freddy Farid, Area General Manager of Gloria Hotels and Resorts, mentions that while the absence of alcohol may affect food and beverage revenue, room revenue remains robust.
Crescentrating cites significant growth in the halal food and beverage sector, which extends to lifestyle and leisure activities. The report suggests that more hotels will incorporate halal requirements for Muslim guests, while simultaneously providing services and amenities for other guests.
Conclusion: As halal tourism burgeons, the hospitality industry is evolving to provide a diverse, inclusive, and respectful environment. The lucrative market and the ever-increasing demand amongst Muslim travelers are reshaping the tourism landscape. Destinations like Sharjah and Dubai are leading the way by integrating a culture of inclusiveness without compromising the values and preferences of their guests.