The Muslim population around the world is growing. Currently, around one in four people on Earth are Muslim, and by 2050 the population is expected to grow to 2.8 billion (a third of the total global population). Add to this a growing Muslim middle class in the Gulf countries, Indonesia and Malaysia, and the rise of skilled professionals in Western Europe and North America, and there’s huge spending potential among the Islamic community.
For the travel industry, the opportunity is enormous. A report by Crescent Rating – the leading voice on the Muslim travel market – says there were 131 million Muslim visitor arrivals globally in 2017. This is forecast to grow to 156 million by 2020, when they estimate the sector will be worth US$220bn.
A large portion of this big-spending tourism market has specific needs, though, and understanding that is the key to successfully serving Muslim travellers – particularly those who observe the rules of Islam.
What is halal and halal travel?
In Arabic, the world ‘halal’ translates as ‘lawful’ or ‘permitted’, and the concept of halal is commonly discussed in relation to food (most often meat). But in the tourism industry, halal travel is about more than just what Muslim visitors need to eat. It refers to the varying lifestyle requirements and preferences of those following the rules of Islam.
Ufuk Seçgin, Chief Marketing Officer for the leading halal accommodation platform HalalBooking, says: “Halal-conscious travellers often have to compromise, so halal-friendly travel is all about offering choice.”
a Google Trends chart shows a 600% increase in searches for the term ‘halal travel’ over the last decade alone
When a Muslim traveller books into a hotel that doesn’t explicitly observe the halal way of life, they may end up unable to eat from the breakfast buffet, or female Muslim travellers may not be able to use mixed-sex swimming facilities. “They pay the same amount,” explains Seçgin, “but for less enjoyment”.
The increased interest in Muslim-friendly travel is evident – a Google Trends chart shows a 600% increase in searches for the term ‘halal travel’ over the last decade alone. This growth in the market has now led to the opening of halal-friendly resorts in some of the top destinations for Muslim travellers, including Turkey, Malaysia and Morocco.
Wome Deluxe in Turkey’s Antalya region is one such hotel, offering everything a traveller could want from a high-end holiday resort – gorgeous views, refreshing swimming pools and numerous restaurants – but with a few differences. “We have halal food and a no alcohol policy in all areas,” says Hotel Manager Yusuf Gerceker. “As well as separate pools, spa and leisure facilities, and beach areas with swimming and sunbathing for women only. Our luxury villas have individual swimming pools and offer guaranteed total privacy. All activities are geared towards maintaining the values and modesty of Muslims.”
Little changes, big impact
But not all hotels can afford to go to such lengths to appease the Muslim travel market – especially if it impacts on the travel habits of existing clientele. However, there are subtle but highly effective ways of making a hotel halal-friendly, such as offering prayer mats on request, removing alcohol from the minibar before a guest’s arrival, or adding halal dishes to the in-room dining and breakfast menus.
“You could also introduce ladies-only hours in the sauna or gym,” says Seçgin. “While this might be a step that impacts your existing guests as well, it really depends on how halal-friendly you want to become.”
There is no global halal-friendly tourism standard, as Islam is a complex religion and what’s halal and haram (forbidden) isn’t necessarily agreed upon worldwide, but there are some general and location-specific boards. The Halal Accreditation Agency in Turkey, which is part of the Trade Ministry, offers certification for establishment meeting their requirements; Malaysia’s Islamic Tourism Centre has its own set of guidelines and standards for the hospitality industry; and Crescent Rating offer a halal accreditation service for hotels worldwide, which takes into account food and prayer facilities, services during Ramadan, and the extent of non-halal activities (such as a casino or nightclub).
Training staff in halal-friendly service
Beyond amenities, staff should also be trained in providing halal-friendly service. “They need to understand certain needs and requests and be able to act upon them” says Seçgin. “This means knowing what on the menu is halal and being able to provide a quiet space for prayer should it be desired. Concierges should be able to offer halal restaurant recommendations too.”
Ultimately, these small touches have potential to make a significant difference to a halal-conscious traveller’s experience, can tip the odds in your favour during the decision-making process, and lead to better guest satisfaction.
You might also want to read:
- LGBTQ+ friendly travel: the things you should know
- Accessible travel: all you need to know
- Simple ways to improve hotel reviews
Hero image: credit to Kyle Glenn, Unsplash
- Thanks to a growing population and an increasing middle class across the world, the Muslim tourism market will be worth US$220bn by 2020
- Halal-friendly tourism is a section specifically targeting the unique needs of Muslim travellers
- Muslim hotels and resorts with gender-segregated pools and beaches have become more common in key regions
- Hotels across the world can make minor changes to help appeal to the Muslim travel market