As summer’s vibrant curtain draws to a close, Spain prepares to bid farewell to its peak tourist season. But as we shift our gaze to the horizon of 2023, the numbers promise a compelling narrative: a staggering 85 million international tourists are set to grace Spain’s shores, marking a remarkable 16.4% increase from the previous year. What’s particularly intriguing is the significant influx of Muslim travelers expected to join this fiesta.
Spain’s magnetic pull on tourists hailing from Muslim-majority countries is undeniable. Recent data reveals that countries like Turkey, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia were among the top 25 nations contributing to Spain’s tourist tapestry in 2022. However, these statistics, while impressive, may not unveil the full scope of Muslim travelers gracing Spanish soil. The Spanish Halal Institute asserts that many Muslims arriving from Western countries often slip under the radar, underscoring the genuine extent of Muslim visitors. This is a trend rooted in Spain’s illustrious history and the pride it evokes among Muslims worldwide, especially for its rich Al-Andalus heritage.
The good news for Muslim travelers is that Spain is in the throes of transformation, evolving beyond its reputation as a sun-and-sand destination. While Muslim-friendly offerings were once primarily clustered in Andalucía, the landscape is shifting. Halal tourism is on the rise across the nation, allowing Muslim visitors to immerse themselves in the rich tapestry of Muslim Spain from coast to coast.
One vital facet gaining substantial attention is the accommodation of Islamic lifestyle guidelines. This includes access to Halal foods prepared according to Islamic principles and suitable spaces for the five daily prayers. Take, for instance, Celia Rodríguez, a native of Barcelona who embraced Islam. She candidly shares her challenges when traveling within Spain, missing Halal dining options and designated prayer areas. Celia notes, “As a local, I’ve learned how to navigate Spanish cuisine to avoid non-Halal products and even find hidden gems. But for Muslim tourists from abroad, it can be quite daunting.”
Enter individuals like Aicha Fernández, a passionate advocate for Muslim Spain, who have taken it upon themselves to bridge this gap. Aicha has launched “Halal Experience,” an initiative aimed at educating businesses on how to cater to Muslim clients. She’s already making strides by organizing seminars to enhance companies’ understanding of Muslim travelers’ needs, thereby making Spain an even more welcoming destination for them.
But Aicha’s mission goes beyond mere accommodation; it’s about unearthing the depths of Islamic heritage spread across Spain. Aicha organizes captivating walking tours in Toledo, located just an hour from Madrid, to showcase the city’s rich Muslim heritage. Her colleague, Rafael Martínez, leads similar initiatives in Madrid, unearthing the Muslim and Arab roots of the city.
Aicha emphasizes, “Andalucía is Al-Andalus, but Al-Andalus is not limited to Andalucía; it extends far beyond.” She reminds us that Muslim history and influence permeate through many Spanish regions, including Soria, Zaragoza, Madrid, Toledo, Cáceres, and Badajoz.
The efforts to diversify tourism options for Muslim travelers and those fascinated by Muslim Spain have gained support from various quarters. Bárbara Ruiz-Bejarano, Director of the Las Fuentes Foundation for the diffusion of Islamic heritage in Spain, recognizes this as an opportunity to develop inland tourism. She notes that Muslim tourists seek cultural and historical experiences, making Spain’s rich heritage an attractive proposition.
Businesses are also awakening to the economic potential of catering to Muslim travelers. According to Aicha Fernández, Muslim clients tend to belong to the upper-middle class, prefer group trips, and opt for longer stays. Spanish companies are keenly aware of this trend, with the Spanish Halal Institute witnessing a surge in interest from businesses seeking certification to cater to the Muslim market.
For instance, the Costa del Sol Hotel in Torremolinos has invested in training its staff to appreciate Muslim culture and traditions, fostering stronger connections with its Muslim clientele. The Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Barcelona has been certified as a Halal hotel, offering specific amenities and services designed to cater to the needs of Muslim guests.
The rise of Halal and Muslim-friendly tourism is not limited to Spain; it’s a global phenomenon. While Turkey initially led the way, even non-Muslim countries like South Korea and Japan have embraced the concept, establishing themselves as top destinations for Muslim-friendly vacations.
Spain, however, is gradually transforming into a more Muslim-friendly destination. Beyond hotels and restaurants, government institutions are releasing official guides tailored for Muslim travelers, making it easier for them to explore Spain’s rich history and heritage.
The future holds promise for Muslim travelers and those intrigued by Muslim Spain. With each passing year, Spain’s commitment to accommodating and celebrating its Islamic history grows stronger, inviting a more diverse set of tourists to explore its multifaceted beauty. So, whether you’re drawn to the sunny beaches of Andalucía or the historic streets of Madrid, Spain is increasingly prepared to welcome you with open arms.