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.
Sizing the Halal Market
While all sources agree that that Halal tourism is one of the fastest growing travel segments in the world, numbers vary widely. According to the 2017 Global Muslim Travel Index prepared by MasterCard and Crescent Rating, in 2016, 121 million Halal travelers spent $155 billion, representing about 13% of total global travel earnings. By 2020, their numbers are projected to grow to 150-156 million, with Amadeus projecting a collective spend of $200 billion.
However, the November 2018 ETC/UNWTO research for The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Outbound Travel Market report, which looked solely at outbound travel from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, found that international tourism spending from the GCC countries, while trending up, was considerably less at more than $60 billion in 2017, up from $40 billion in 2010.
How are Muslim Travelers Booking and Planning?
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 done through traditional travel agents. Customer relations, a common language, and insecurity about online transactions have kept consumers loyal to agents.
They forecast rapid growth in online distribution thanks to tech-savvy millennials who comprise 36% of the Muslim travel market according to Crescent Rating. Phocuswright 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.
The ETC/WTO report on the GCC countries states that outbound travel from GCC countries had benefited from growth in air travel during the past decade, with Gulf carriers becoming major players in long-haul aviation.
Where the Halal Market Originates
Fazal Bahardeen, CEO of Crescent Rating and Halaltrip, told the World Travel Monitor in March 2018 that the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia were the biggest source markets by spend; of course, they are among the most prosperous travelers in the world. He noted that Southeast Asia was the next biggest outbound market, and that the U.K., France and Germany together accounted for about 10%-12% of Muslim travelers.
A 2015 study done by YouGov & Expedia 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 region 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 Tourists are 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.
The ETC/WTO report on GCC outbound travelers found that Europe held appeal because of the variety of attractions and landscapes, developed infrastructure and common visa and currency systems, which make multi-destination travel easier. Europe is seen as offering diversity in experiences as well as opportunities to shop for luxury and designer fashion. Barriers to booking a trip to Europe include safety and security concerns, the language barrier and the high cost of holidays.
Halal Traveler Profile
The ETC/WTO report notes that GCC travellers are mostly young and family-oriented, with large disposable incomes, and looking for high-quality accommodation, food and retail services. Here’s a look at some other interesting statistics about Halal Travelers from the 2016 International Travel Week Abu Dhabi.
Accommodating Halal Travel Preferences
The Muslim Travel Index Europe 2014 surveyed travelers from Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and U.A.E. visiting Europe and 93% said it was important that the countries they visited catered to a halal lifestyle. According to their report, “Accommodation should provide a high degree of freedom, while respecting religious principles.”
At the 2018 ITB Berlin, hoteliers in the market and agencies such as HalalBooking.com defined the amenities of halal hotels. They don’t serve alcohol on the premises, food is prepared according to halal principles, there are separate pool and spa hours for men and women and the staff has been trained to respect Muslim traveler needs. Halal rooms should have prayer facilities facing in the direction of Kibla, a Koran, and toilets with water facilities.
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 family guests look for hotel rooms that provide privacy and the ability to prepare meals, perhaps in furnished apartments.
Halal Travelers Prioritize Family Destinations
The YouGov & Expedia study noted that 60% of U.A.E. 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 public 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.
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