Author: Family Travel Forum Staff
Tags : Adventure Trip, Africa, Asia, Blogs, Europe, Middle East, Multigen, Travel Trends
Travel by Muslims, whether or not they are actively religious or following Islamic social laws, is a market segment known as Halal Tourism. (Halal means a code of dietary laws, similar to the kosher dietary rules followed by some Jews.)
The travel industry, particularly in the Middle East and Arab world, has long recognized that even non-religious travelers have cultural preferences that can be easily catered to while they travel.
How Big is the Halal Market
Sources within the Arab travel industry note that Halal tourism is one of the fastest growing travel segments in the world, third only behind China and the United States in terms of revenue generated. According to the Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) in 2016, 121 million Halal travelers spent $155 billion, representing about 13% of total global travel earnings. By 2020, their numbers are expected to grow to 168 million.
Market studies done in preparation for the 2016 International Travel Week Abu Dhabi found that Halal visitors are interested in getting the best value from their trips, and using a travel agent who can add expertise and ease of planning to complex trips.
That is changing slowly. In 2018, Phocuswright published a study of how Middle East travelers research and book their trips. According to the "Research Spotlight," the majority of travel bookings in the region are still done through traditional travel agents. Customer relations, a common language, and insecurity about online transactions have kept consumers loyal to agents. However, Phocuswright is forecasting rapid growth in online distribution thanks to the tech-savvy millennials, and projects that 41% of travel transactions in the Middle East will be done online by 2021, compared with 31% in 2017. While Booking.com leads the pack of OTAs serving this burgeoning market, newer regional OTAs have already added competition.
United Arab Emirates Leads the Market
Of course, travelers originating from the United Arab Emirates, site of the conference, represent a special market because they are among the most prosperous in the world. A study done by YouGov & Expedia in May 2015 found that U.A.E residents take an average of four vacations per year, and 86% travel for leisure at least once a year.
More people leave the U.A.E. in the summer months to visit cooler climates, spending an average one month on holiday. Many of the same travelers make one or two city stops, for shopping and sightseeing, en route to their final destination.
The Phocuswright Research Spotlight estimates that as the Middle East's largest travel market, the U.A.E. would account for 51% of the region's travel gross bookings when 2017 statistics are tallied. This is expected to grow as the Emirates make a bigger push into tourism, investing in infrastructure to be ready to host the World Expo 2020 in Dubai.
Where Halal Tourism is Going
"Malaysia is considered the number one choice for Halal tourism," says Tourism-Review, having welcomed about 121 million people in 2016. It is considered a “Muslim-friendly” destination, as are the Muslim majority countries of U.A.E., Indonesia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The August 2017 report also cites trends that indicate a dropoff in Muslim travel to the United States due to President Trump's travel, security and immigration policies. This trend has benefited the north African countries of Morocco and Egypt, and has piqued the interest of Kenya's tourism industry, which is said to be developing a line of Halal oriented hotels.
Halal Traveler Profile
Here's a look at some other interesting statistics about Halal Travelers from International Travel Week Abu Dhabi.
Tips to Accommodate Halal Travel Preferences
The Muslim Travel Index Europe 2014 surveyed travelers from Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and UAE visiting Europe, and 93% said it was important to them that the countries they visited catered to a halal lifestyle. Today, these travelers -- well educated, tech savvy, and young (30% are between ages 15-29) -- are interested in flexibile travel packages and are willing to book in advance to get them.
The survey also found that halal visitors prefer accommodations that understand their needs. According to their report, "Accommodation should provide a high degree of freedom, while respecting religious principles."
In many Arab communities, restaurants and public spaces are often the gathering spot for men, while woman are rarely seen outside their rooms. Therefore, halal guests look for full-service hotels whose rooms also provide privacy and the ability to prepare meals, perhaps in furnished apartments. Hotels that offer pool hours restricted to men / women only periods also will find customers in this market.
Halal Travelers Prioritize Family Destinations
The YouGov & Expedia study noted that 60% of UAE residents travel with their families or large groups, especially over the Muslim holidays. Families and large groups tend to travel longer, too -- an average of 17 days per trip. According to International Travel Week Abu Dhabi, these travelers prefer family-friendly destinations which are less likely to feature entertainment that might offend their customs.
Because of the laws governing the handling of foods, destinations with a wide variety of Halal dining offerings (especially high-end, local cuisine) are topping their lists. Halal visitors also appreciate destinations offering facilities for prayer and tours that schedule around them, as religious Muslims may pray five times per day.
Lastly, the survey cautions travel planners to provide thoughtful transportation options. As women may not be used to being out in public, private drivers are a practical option for sightseeing and airport transfers, and certainly more convenient for large families.