A dedicated “halal cruise” is the latest in a stream of tourism offerings being marketed directly towards Muslim travellers, as global companies reposition themselves to cater to the growth market.
The cruise, touted as the first of its kind in Turkey without alcohol, pork products or gambling services on board, is set to sail next month, and follows a swath of travel apps, websites, hotels, airlines and Muslim-friendly guides clamouring to cater to the increasing number of tourists looking for a thoughtful holiday experience.
“It will be a cultural and historic tour that promises an atmosphere of social networking,” Kemal Gunay, the general manager of the host company Fusion Tour, said in the Turkish media last week.
With the world’s Muslim population expected to increase from 1.6 billion to 2.2 billion by 2030, projections suggest halal travel will outpace the growth of any other tourism sector within the next four years. According to the MasterCard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2015, while the sector was worth US$145 billion (Dh532.6bn) last year, it’s expected to grow to $200bn by 2020.
“It’s becoming a hugely competitive market now as tourism bodies realise the potential of attracting this high-spending market,” says Abu Dhabi-based event director Andy Buchanan, who in October will assist the UAE’s capital in hosting the World Halal Travel Summit – an event that is being promoted as “the largest B2B (business-to-business) gathering of global halal-travel specialists ever assembled”.
“Succeeding in halal travel is a very high priority for Abu Dhabi – almost every Abu Dhabi stakeholder is involved,” adds Buchanan. So what is halal tourism? Essentially, it involves a process of taking into account the needs of the Muslim traveller, including halal food, prayer facilities and private areas for men and women. It’s a subcategory of tourism geared towards families who abide by rules of Islam.
Its growth is being driven by several factors, according to Fazal Bahardeen, the chief executive of CrescentRating – a Singapore-based halal-tourism online platform that’s developed into an authority on the sector with the only globally recognised rating system. An increasing Muslim population, an increasing Muslim middle class with disposable income and more destinations around the world realising the opportunities to service this niche market are all contributing.
“The UAE is one of the top outbound markets,” Bahardeen says. “The UAE’s outbound Muslim travellers are becoming more and more aware of Muslim-friendly options, and there is a growing demand for that.” Bahardeen says feedback from the broader global Muslim community has been good, but there’s always room for improvement. “More and more Muslims are now very keen to explore new destinations. However, they still feel some of their requirements are not adequately met in many destinations.”
Chrisa Chatzisavva is a businesswoman hoping to help change that. She’s the driving force behind the halal-tourism website Muslim Break (www.muslimbreak.com), which aims to “offer Muslims the opportunity to have their dream holiday without feeling uncomfortable”. “Our offering is 100 per cent tailored to Muslim travellers’ needs and lifestyles. They don’t need to doubt whether they’ll be able to find halal food, prayer rooms or privacy,” Chatzisavva says.
The site, which was launched five months ago, offers reviews and advice on holidays that it tailors to the clients’ needs. The idea, says the marketing professional, came about while she was holidaying in Greece with her family five years ago. “I noticed we were having constantly increasing inbound tourism from Morocco and Algeria, but that halal-tourism infrastructure was non-existent. So many Muslim tourists were getting frustrated,” says Chatzisavva. Her vision was to “make the modern Muslim traveller a true citizen of the world and bridge the gap between Islam and other traditions”.
Originally published on www.thenational.ae