Is the Halal tourism sector recovering amid the COVID-19 pandemic? What is the Halal tourism recovery plan? How can we rebuild Halal tourism for the future? Are we ready for a post-COVID-19 Halal tourism recovery? Well, we may not have definitive answers to these and many other related questions.
By looking at the recovery plans of various countries and the industry news emanating from different parts of the world, it looks like we might be seeing some signs of Halal tourism recovery.
After being devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, the Halal tourism industry is starting to see signs of recovery. It is looking to reboot itself using technology.
What Is Halal Tourism?
One of the fastest-growing sectors of tourism, Halal tourism is geared towards Muslim families who abide by the rules of Islam. Before the pandemic, UK-based HalalBooking.com was the fastest-growing travel and leisure company in Britain and the eighth-fastest in the European tourism sector.
But Ufuk Secgin, the company’s chief marketing officer, told The National that from April to June 2020 it was tough for the entire industry. Hotels were closed and sales ground to a halt, while refunds for canceled and postponed trips had to be honored.
Mr. Secgin is optimistic, however, that the company’s technology, market knowledge, customer base, a network of affiliates, and accommodation portfolio will make it well placed to survive the crisis in 2021 and beyond.
Although sales have been hit badly by Covid-19, HalalBooking.com recorded some recovery in July, with demand at about 60 percent of that in the same month last year. Mr. Secgin said sales for August are already up 5 percent from the 2019 figure for the same month.
Plenty of obstacles remain, however. Many Muslim-majority countries, such as Morocco and the Maldives, still remain closed to international tourists.
With cleanliness another concern during the pandemic, HalalBooking hotels have been awarded safe tourism certificates and will undergo monthly inspections to ensure they comply with more than 100 hygiene measures. The company also recently announced a partnership with the holiday booking website Expedia, enabling it to offer stays at many more hotels and villas than before.
Countries Hit Hardest by COVID-19
as governments in most countries are struggling to meet the cost of the pandemic, their debts are mounting. However, the damage has not been evenly spread among these economies.
According to Moody`s Investors Service in New York stated that the smaller, less diversified economies that entered the pandemic with weak fiscal conditions are most at risk.
Domestic Tourism May Be A Road To Recovery
Various countries with a sizable middle class are betting on the rise in domestic tourism. Russia and China are two bright examples in this regard.
“This partnership is particularly important at the moment because, due to the coronavirus pandemic, we can see that some customer behavior is changing. In 2021 many customers are choosing to holiday in their home country,” Mr. Secgin said.
Previously, only a small proportion of HalalBooking’s accommodation was in the UK, Germany, or France, where most of its clients live.
Through the deal with Expedia it has increased its supply in the Scottish Highlands; Cornwall, south-west England; the French Riviera, and Lake Constance in the Alps.
It has also increased its focus on the GCC countries, which it believes will fuel growth in the region soon.
The messaging around rebooting tourism amid a pandemic is crucial and Mr. Secgin has recently been visiting Halal-friendly resort hotels in Turkey to share information with customers.
Attracting GCC Tourists
In the UK, Halal Tourism Britain has been hit badly by the pandemic too. The travel company, led by tour guide AbdulMaalik Tailor, provides Muslim heritage tours in Britain along with river cruises to mark religious holidays such as Eid Al Fitr. Naturally, all the food offered on these tours is Halal.
Mr. Tailor told The National the British government could do more to sell itself as a destination to Muslim tourists amid Covid-19.
Mr. Tailor is looking to bring more Emirati customers to Britain.
“The Gulf countries are seen as high spenders in this industry. That’s quite attractive to everybody and there needs to be a better promotion in terms of the safety measures in place in the UK.
“The government could help make a tourism video that is targeted at a Middle Eastern audience to say: ‘These are the safety measures that we have in place’ because I’ve seen it the other way around, in the UAE, the videos they’ve made.”
He said it would be helpful if the British government could follow the UAE’s example and promote the UK as a safe destination.
Mr. Tailor said religious guidance had made Halal holidaymakers more cautious than other tourists.
“In the narrations of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh), it actually tells us if there’s a disease or plague somewhere, we should remain in our own cities and we should not be venturing out. And that someone from another city should not be coming to visit us as well. From a religious point of view, many people have adhered to that during this pandemic.”
Mr. Tailor intended to host five themed Islamic cruises this summer but has had to cancel at least three. He held an Eid cruise a couple of months ago. He is also planning to hold other halal tourism events. However, the occurrence of these events may depend on the situation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite seeing “more or less a standstill” on all bookings from March to June, there has been more demand for domestic bookings since measures have eased. Only last week, the UK government abandoned all the restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Eid cruise on the Thames brought some customers back in but it was just domestic customers. I think people wanted just to get out there. They had been too much in lockdown.”
Although they managed to hold the event successfully while adhering to social distancing rules, Mr. Tailor said it would still be some time before bookings returned to pre-pandemic levels.
“We used to do cruises every day but now that has been shortened to only on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays,” he said.
His wider Halal tours in Britain have also been badly hit by the pandemic.
“We did have a new tour that we put together and tried to promote it, but nobody as of yet has booked it. But it’s like the rest of our tours: nobody’s booked. We’ve not had any bookings whatsoever in terms of the walking tours.”
“We did try doing some online tours as well. We did initially start charging people but we realized that not many people would book that up. We focused the tours online, to keep the momentum going.”
Mr. Tailor said that he wants his company to diversify and partner with other suppliers as well as “lay on different” experiences to help it navigate the pandemic.
“We already have a Muslim heritage tour Reduce bounce rates of the British Museum and that’s one we know there’s a lot of interest for.”
Where Is Tourism Sector Recovering?
Advanced economies are seeing a significant rise in tourism sectors. However, tourism-dependent countries may still have to wait for a recovery in the sector.
Domestic tourism is likely to take the lead while we will have to wait until we see a full recovery in foreign Halal tourism.
What Are Challenges To The Halal Tourism?
Apart from the recent surge in delta variant of the COVID-19, there are some other formidable issues the Halal travel industry has been facing. Some of them are listed below.
- Getting vaccinated may become a mandatory requirement for all international travel. The US is already thought to be considering such a move for all foreign visitors.
- Some countries may require foreign visitors to take certain types of vaccination jabs before they are allowed to enter the country. Saudi Arabia has approved only four vaccinations for all internationals to the country. So far, they do not accept Chinese vaccines.
- Due to the rise in videoconferencing technologies like Zoom, Microsoft Teams etc., business travellers do not see much merit in travelling to foreign countries just to attend a meeting or a conference.
Halal Tourism Recovery Strategies
As a Halal tourism operator, you may want to adopt the following strategies to help recover the sector and make some money for your company while so doing.
- Focus on local Halal tourism first
- Offer flexible tour packages including free cancellation,
- Offer smaller group tours comprising of close family members and friends
- Make sure that health safety measures are fully implemented
Although, many countries are trying to save their tourism sectors, so far, they are seeing mixed results. Some airlines say COVID-19 variants are hurting their bookings. Delta variant has left many of them struggling to save tourism. Experts warn of the “critical” COVID surge in Tokyo during the Olympics.
By analyzing the data available so far emanating from various countries, it looks like we may be seeing halal tourism recovery. However, various countries may be adopting different recovery strategies.