The term “Halal” was not so long ago applied mostly to food, but those days are gone and today it covers a wide range of products – from makeup to medicine, education to tourism, and finance. The halal-related industry is growing around the globe, and its travel sector is a fast emerging concept within the USD 2.1 trillion Halal lifestyle market, expected to grow by almost 6 percent per annum which is almost double the global tourist industry growth.
Global expenditure of Muslim consumers in the food and lifestyle sectors was estimated at USD 2 trillion in 2013 and is expected to reach USD 3.7 trillion by 2019, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.8 percent, stated Thomson Reuters’ State of Global Islamic Economy 2014 report, while Islamic tourism presently accounts for between 11 and 13 percent of the international tourism market.
In the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, Islamic tourism is growing, with Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar as leading destinations for international and regional Muslim travellers. Tourists from the Gulf spend USD 40 billion every year on leisure travel, and according to various industry reports, they make up to 31 percent of the total Muslim travel expenditure.
But the regional Halal tourist market, dominated by agencies specialising in pilgrimages to Mecca and tours to the Western world, has yet to be exploited, despite the fact that the GCC member states have huge advantages in attracting Halal-conscious travellers, because of their tradition, culture and language since most Muslim inbound travellers speak English or Arabic. Also, there are well developed facilities and services as well as traditional Halal cuisine.
The importance and future development of the Halal tourist market will be discussed in October in Abu Dhabi, which is earnestly targeting the Halal tourism sector, at The World Halal Travel Summit & Exhibition (WITS15) that will focus on the tourism between the 57 Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states.
“The Muslim travel market is now one of the largest and fastest growing sectors in tourism,” says Anas Kasak, chief marketing officer at CrescentRating and its sister company HalalTrip, travel and tourism organizations specialising in Halal/Muslim travel. “In 2014, there were 108 million Muslim travellers spending USD 145 billion. This is expected to grow to 150 million travellers in 2020 spending USD 200 billion. This means that every destination in the world, including the GCC region, can see the growth potential of this market.”
The recently launched MasterCard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2015 is the most comprehensive data ever released on this sector. The 2015 Index analysed over 100 destinations, Muslim and non-Muslim, across all the continents against a backdrop of nine criteria creating an individual index for every destination.
“As you would imagine, destinations in the Middle East have a significant presence in the GMTI with four members of the GCC being represented in the top 10 OIC destinations. UAE is the highest ranked in third position behind Turkey and Malaysia that took the top spots. Saudi Arabia was ranked fourth while Qatar came in at fifth. Oman completed the quartet of GCC destinations in the seventh position.
“As the market matures, GCC destinations will need to continue to educate, enhance their current offerings, look for new trends in the market such as the growth of family travel within the Muslim market, and increase investment in infrastructure and marketing because other destinations are also becoming more competitive and looking to penetrate the market,” he says.
Industry experts agree the GCC region needs to do more to attract conscious Muslim travelers. Dr. Dileep M.R., assistant professor at Oman’s Salalah College of Applied Sciences, points out, regional tour operators, particularly inbound, are yet to tap Halal tourism as an important market segment. “Their focus is mainly the European tourist,” says Dr. Dileep. Mizan Raja, director of the London-based Islamic Travel, shares the same opinion, bluntly saying, “Tour operators in the GCC only cater to white Westerners.”
He explains that Halal travel and tourism industries in non-Muslim countries do a much better job than in Muslim countries, because, as he puts it, “They are more accommodating and serious about business, life and service. It’s all about business, the Chinese have also understood this,” Raja says. Dr. Dileep adds tour operators from the GCC, compared to those from other parts of the world, have not marketed Halal tourism to its potential. “For others it is a big marketing tool and they will promote it aggressively.”
“There is no doubt Muslim destinations have a distinct advantage in the Halal travel market due to having comprehensive Muslim-friendly facilities and services by default due to being Muslim-majority destinations. However, the GMTI 2015 has shown us the potential for every destination in the world regardless of their faith as is evident from the comprehensive non-OIC ranking. Singapore, which was the number one destination in the non-OIC category in the GMTI 2015, is an excellent example.
Over the last few years, it has invested in attracting the Halal sector by adapting its offering to the Muslim tourist. It currently boasts some of the best Halal food environments in non-OIC destinations, even when compared against OIC destinations. It has invested and embraced processes that provide greater transparency to the sector. An example is the well established and dedicated Halal certification body. In addition, CrescentRating is working with destinations such as Japan and Taiwan who are really keen to embrace the Halal tourism market,” says Kasak.
According to the MasterCard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index 2015, within the GCC region Saudi Arabia welcomed the highest number of Muslim visitors in 2014 with 10.2 million. The UAE saw 2.9 million Muslim arrivals what was 27 percent of the total arrivals, while Oman recorded 670,000 (30 percent of the total arrivals), and Qatar welcomed 348,000 Muslim arrivals, which accounts, like the UAE, for 27 percent of all arrivals. Qatar is emerging as a regional tourist hub – according to Qatar Tourism Authority, by 2030 there will be up to 127,000 hospitality jobs in the country.
Well planned business
The Muslim population is rapidly growing: it is expected to become 26.5 percent of the global population by 2030, and this young, buoyant community (around 50 percent of Muslims are below 25 years) with a larger disposable income, wants to explore the world, so tapping especially the middle-class Muslim market has to be a serious, well-planned and strategically developed business, which is continually enhancing and expanding its services and capabilities.
Dr. Dileep emphasises that Oman may have to earmark facilities for Halal tourists especially families. “At beaches etc., this can be done. Also classified hotels have to arrange alcohol free restaurants and other food centres, separate swimming pools, separate recreational facilities, etc. to attract families.
Moreover, branding and marketing can also be oriented in that way in those market countries or regions.” One powerful marketing tool is social media – numerous apps nowadays enable Muslim tourists to locate attractions, mosques and Halal services in countries they visit.
The modern Muslim tourist, explains Kasak, like any other traveller, requires a holiday destination that fulfils their needs. “We are seeing a rising demand globally from Muslims for products and services that take into account their faith-based needs and travel is no exception. These include Muslim-friendly services including prayer facilities and the provision of Halal food.”
“The motivation for travel may differ from one to another. Regarding their religious consciousness, especially when they are with their families, they may choose to not interact with men from outside. An alcohol-free environment, then, is a must. Swimming pools, etc. also can be separate.
At beaches also possible separation can be there,” says Dr. Dileep on the needs of the Muslim tourist, while Raja, whose agency focuses on encouraging Muslims to travel around the Muslim world and learn about Islamic history and heritage, adds that the most important thing is respect and human dignity for someone who wants to explore the world. “The rest depends on the type of package, whether it’s a cultural or historical tour or beach resort,” he states.
Malaysia has positioned itself as a major global Halal player – the country is a key producer and exporter of Halal products, is the most preferred global destination in the Islamic travel market according to MasterCard-CrescentRating GMTI, while among non-OIC destinations, along with Singapore are Thailand, UK, South Africa and France.
Within the GCC region, residents of Saudi Arabia are the big spenders. According to the World Tourism Organization (WTO), Saudi average spend is USD 1,700 for a single trip abroad, while the Kingdom’s outbound tourism expenditure is USD 17.8 billion, states the Thomson Reuters’ report. Saudi Arabia is followed by Iran (USD 14.3 billion), UAE (USD 11.2 billion), Qatar (USD 7.8 billion), Kuwait (USD 7.7 billion), and Indonesia (USD 7.5 billion).
Muslim communities living in non-Muslim countries also have sizable outbound tourism expenditure share – according to the Reuters’ report the largest of these markets are Russia (USD 5.4 billion), Germany (USD 3.6 billion), UK (USD 2.4 billion) and France (USD 2.3 billion).
Halal-friendly tourism is not limited to Muslim travellers only, since the concept is family-oriented, the market can expand to the non-Muslim population. But it takes time. “The concept is in its infancy and wide marketing is not being done. Theoretically, the concept can be good for other family-oriented tourism as well, especially for tourists from orthodox regions.
Still it is not seen marketed among families belonging to non-Muslim categories,” opines Dr. Dileep. Raja says, “Many non-Muslims want family orientated beach resorts without the “bad” crowd, especially conservative Christians and Jews and women.”
Kasak emphasises the family-friendly nature of Halal travel is one which appeals to everyone regardless of faith. “All family travellers would like a destination that serves their needs and the tenets of Halal travel are ones which will resonate with every traveller regardless of their faith. One of the key characteristics of the Muslim Travel Market is that they are ‘family travellers’. Our statistics show more than 50 percent travel with family, much more than any other segment.”