In this Interview with Eyup Celik, the co-founder of MuslimBreak.com, we provide insights into the global halal travel and tourism market
The economic success of certain Islamic countries and the Muslim community gobally has translated into travelers exploring the world beyond their boundaries, albeit without compromising on their Halal consciousness. According to The State of the Global Islamic Economy 2014/2015 report produced by Thomson Reuters, the Halal Travel industry represents 11.5 percent of global expenditure.
The Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) of 2015 placed the United Arab Emirates in the 3rd most preferred destination, behind Turkey on the 2nd and Malaysia on the top spot.
We spoke to Eyup Celik, the co-founder of MuslimBreak.com – an online portal and guide for Halal holiday planning in countries such as the UAE, Malaysia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, London and Slovenia amongst others. Apart from understanding the market, we also tried to discover the potential of Halal travel in softening and improving the image of Islam and Muslims.
SEE ALSO: Middle East/North Africa Luxury Travel – Key Facts and Figures [Infographic]
AG – What is the combined value of Halal travel / tourism market?
MB – According to DinarStandard, Muslim tourists spent $137 billion (excluding the pilgrims in Saudi Arabia) in 2012. By 2020, this figure is expected to exceed $180 billion. In Britain alone, Muslim tourists spent 21 billion pounds last year and most were inbound tourists from the Middle East.
AG – What is the prime driver of the growth? Is it just more disposable income amongst Muslim travellers, or a novel interest amongst travellers to explore more countries outside the Arab World independent of income?
MB – To address this question, we could possibly consider why we have so many halal restaurants. Some businessmen identified a gap in the market and decided to capitalise on it. Halal holidays as a sector started growing in Malaysia and Turkey primarily where tourism is a highly developed and successful industry.
AG – With a presence of Islamic history in countries like Cyprus and Spain, how are they coping with the interest shown by Muslim travelers? Are there organised Halal travel facilities available in such countries?
MB – There are indeed several halal hotels and restaurants. There is a slight hesitation in the growth of halal travel in these particular countries, given the quite strong religious (Christian) element in their cultural and political heritage.
AG – What are the most common questions & preferences of Muslim travelers?
MB – Halal food, privacy, separate space for men and women as well as praying facilities are some of the key areas where preferences of Muslims travelers lie.
AG – In the light of certain Islamophobic incidences in Europe, what are the kind of challenges you have to face when preparing a tour for Muslim travelers?
MB – Some Muslims are hesitant to get out of their comfort zone and visit these countries. In spite of this reluctance, we haven’t seen any decreased interest from Muslim tourist in these countries. I am quite certain that knowing they can have halal holidays even in countries like Greece or the UK will offer them an extra incentive to travel.
AG – What steps can the tourism departments take to increase the attraction for countries like Bosnia that offer great value to travelers?
MB – The tourism department should run marketing activities in Islamic countries, especially where a sizeable Muslim population is already showing interest in other Halal friendly destinations such as the UK. It’s important to tap into existing demand and give alternative destinations such as Bosnia.
AG – A country like India has a large Muslim population and rich Islamic history. Yet, it’s attraction in the Halal travel market is poor. As experts in the Halal Travel market, what do you think are they lacking?
This has most likely to do with the low GDP observed in the majority of the Indian Muslim population which can’t afford holidays, let alone halal holidays. At the moment, this niche seems to attract more premium audience, however, as the industry evolves, the low-cost part of it seems to slowly emerge.
AG – Will MuslimBreak.com venture into countries such as India and the African continent which has potential as Halal travel destinations?
MB – Absolutely! As long there’s demand, we will explore markets beyond our present destinations. Perhaps African and Indian audience have different needs from the European audience wich we primarily serve. But since we want our brand to be seen as truly globalised, we are looking to adjust into these markets’ demands too.
AG – On the app: how has the response from restaurants been for collecting information on Halal food? Do restaurants believe that halal meat/food is a selling point for tourism?
MB – The app development is still in its early stages. However, the Halal option is very much welcome by restaurant owners, regardless of being Muslims or not. Or co-founder who is originally from Greece has observed that many several holiday resorts in her country have started serving halal meat which a few years ago was not a popular trend. Restaurant owners are realising that they have to satisfy a great part of their customer audience, and have to adjust their business activities to this environment.
AG – Is the Halal travel market skewed towards premium travel with only 5-star hotels meeting the requirements, or is there a budget-travel segment too?
MB – As previously mentioned, at the moment the halal travel market is more premium, purely because it requires investment to turn your, eg. hotel into 100% halal (separate pools, private beaches, praying spaces etc) however, we are seeing small steps of business owners wanting to ‘capitalise’ on low – budget, turning their businesses into halal-friendly.
AG – Can the Halal Travel traffic in European countries improve perceptions associated with Islam and Muslims?
MB – We certainly think so, yes. It gives the Non-Muslim Europeans an opportunity to realise that we should all stop labelling people according to their religious or cultural identity, and that, at least as tourists, they have a lot in common to Muslims. Like everyone, Muslim travelers too love relaxation and exploring new environments.
Our interview with MuslimBreak.com gives us a peak into the burgeoning Halal travel market and addresses key areas of improvement. There still remains latent potential waiting to be tapped, especially in countries such as India which boasts rich Islamic heritage. Though Islam is the second most followed religion in the country, this article explains why many Muslim foreign tourists forego India as a destination, which in turn has kept India away from the top 20 GMTI club mentioned in beginning of this article.
Not only does India fail to serve the gastronomic needs of Muslim tourists, the country’s tourism circuit is also plagued by a far bigger problem: Lack of safety, which keeps all kinds of travellers at bay. In 2013, a World Economic Forum report placed India at 65th position in a travel and tourism ranking of 140 countries. Safety, hygiene, infrastructure, and natural and cultural resources were some of the parameters for the ranking.
As the Halal travel secor is expected to contribute 11% to the total travel economy in 2020, countries like India – with its spectacular array of mosques, mausoleums and eateries – will have to step up its game to attract those bitten by the wanderlust bug, but are also mindful of their faith-based requirements.
Photo credit-Effendi Safar Jini/Flickr