The global tourism industry is gearing up for a projected boom in travellers from the Muslim world over the next decade, experts say.
Number of Muslim tourists – especially from the oil-rich Gulf states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – are setting travelling trends that have never been witnessed before. Halal spas, prayer rooms at airport terminals and non-alcoholic five-star hotels are a few signs of the growing number and affluence of Muslim tourists worldwide.
According to a study by two companies specialising the Muslim tourism market, tourist spending is growing faster than the global rate and is expected to reach $192 billion a year by 2020, up from $126 billion in 2011.
The study published by AFP was conducted in 47 countries by Singapore-based halal travel specialist Crescentrating, along with DinarStandard, a US-based firm that tracks the Muslim lifestyle market.
Fazal Bahardeen, Crescentrating CEO, said that while Muslim-majority states such as Egypt, Malaysia and Indonesia were already favourite destinations, non-Islamic countries are also “taking a serious look” at Muslim tourism and trying to lure holidaymakers by making it compatible with their lifestyle.
According to the findings, Malaysia is the most favourite Muslim destination, attracting visitors even during the fasting month of Ramadan which is currently underway.
“It’s not that far from Saudi Arabia and it’s less expensive to travel here rather than Europe. It’s also an Islamic country so that helps in many ways, like to find a mosque and Arabic food,” Mohammed Ali Alali, 23, a petroleum engineering student from Dammam, Saudi Arabia said who is travelling with his bride, a 20-year-old medicine student, on honeymoon.
The survey revealed that the availability of halal food is the top requirement of Muslim travellers. Prayer rooms at airports and hotels, halal restaurants and even spas adapted to religious requirements are added attractions, it added.
Gold Coast for gold travellers
Australia is taking the lead by welcoming tourists from the Middle East and other affluent Muslim countries to its serene beaches.
“Why not try Gold Coast for a cooler Ramadan this year?” says the tourism website of Australia’s Queensland state.
“With a long history of welcoming Middle Eastern visitors and a large resident community, facilities for Muslims in Gold Coast, Australia keep getting better every year.”
According to The Economist Intelligence Unit report published in March, the world is turning its attention on meeting the needs of tourists from the 1.8 billion-strong Muslim community and cashing on tremendous business opportunities in numerous sectors.
“From food and Islamic finance, the industry is spreading its wings into pharmaceuticals, fashion and tourism, among many other areas,” it said, noting more than half of the world’s Muslim population is aged 24 or younger, many of them well-educated.
Thai says hi
Thailand is another non-Muslim country with a huge Muslim minority. The Southeast Asian nation is also vying for a slice from the ‘halal tourism’ pie.
Thai tourism authority has opened an office in Dubai and is aggressively promoting halal spas for Muslim tourists, who require strict privacy for male and female clients.
It also organised a month-long festival of Thai cuisine in the United Arab Emirates from 8 June to 7 July.
Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport is the most Islam-friendly airport in a non-Muslim country, Crescentrating said in its study which also found that tourists from the Gulf countries are the sector’s biggest spenders.
The GCC nations accounted for 37% of Muslim tourist spending in 2011 even though they represent a mere 3% of the global Muslim population.