WITH MORE THAN A FIFTH OF ALL GLOBAL CITIZENS FOLLOWING ISLAM, THE HALAL TRAVEL MARKET IS ONE OF THE FASTEST GROWING AND MOST LUCRATIVE SEGMENTS IN THE GLOBAL TRAVEL INDUSTRY, OFFERING ENDLESS OPPORTUNITIES AS THE NUMBER OF MUSLIM TOURISTS AND THEIR EXPENDITURE IS FORECAST TO SOAR.

According to Mastercard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index 2017 (GMTI 2017), the Muslim travel market reached around 121 million international tourists in 2016, a figure that is set to soar to 156 million travellers by 2020.

Underscoring how significant this market is and the impact that Muslim tourists have on the global economy, Faeez Fadhlillah, CEO, Salam Standard, explained, “[...] Muslim travel contributed more than USD136 billion towards the global economy in 2015, creating more than four million jobs worldwide.”

In fact, as revealed in Salam Standard’s The Global Economic Impact of Muslim Tourism 2015/2016, more than 10 percent of global tourism expenditure is generated by Muslim travellers, with the Middle Eastern marketing accounting for around 60 percent of this with USD60 billion of outbound spending.

Moreover, indicating the vast opportunities for industry stakeholders, the projected value of this not so niche market is set to grow to USD233 billion by 2020.

Ufuk Secgin, chief marketing officer, HalalBooking, reiterated how rapidly the Muslim travel market is ballooning, as is the need for Halal-friendly services, platforms and products.

Noting that the online Halal-friendly travel booking website is setting new sales records almost every week, Secgin highlighted, “In the first half of the year (H1), we continued our steady growth rate of 100 percent [...]. Thus, we were able to double our turnover in H1 versus H1 2016.”

THE LION’S SHARE

For hoteliers across the Middle East, it comes as no surprise that Muslim travellers represent a significant proportion of guests, considering both local religion as well as proximity to neighbouring Islamic countries.

As Victor Gonzalez, director, sales and marketing, Armed Forces Officers Club & Hotel, disclosed, around 65 percent of the Abu Dhabi-based hotel’s customers are Muslim, primarily from the UAE and GCC.

Properties across the Middle East have also observed that the number of travellers from Muslim countries has grown.

Mentioning that 37 percent of guests are Muslim, Matthias Hellweg, general manager, Ramada Bahrain, added, “We have seen an increase in Muslim travellers in recent years.” He further indicated that the property recently converted one of its meeting rooms to a prayer room, demonstrating increased demand in Halal amenities.

Meanwhile, James Hewitson, general manager, Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara, clarified that although the address does not capture religion as part of its guests’ demographics, it is safe to say that approximately 40 percent of guests are Muslim.

However, Hewitson elucidated that this estimation is very dependant on season, adding, “From around October to May, our largest group of guests are from Europe to enjoy the sun and beach.

However [...] Khareef, or the monsoon season when it is cool and rainy, attracts an influx of guests from neighbouring Middle Eastern countries, which normally correlates to an increase in Muslim visitors.”

Other visible changes in Muslim travellers holidaying in the Middle East have been noticed.

Tulkin Radzhabov, revenue and reservation manager, Al Ain, Ayla Hotels & Resorts, pinpointed that while there has been a five percent uplift in Muslim guests over 2016, the most notable shift has been in source markets, the country range of Muslim travellers has broadened.

CHANGING DEMOGRAPHICS

GMTI 2017 listed some key drivers that are fuelling the ongoing expansion of the Muslim travel market, the first of which is the growing Muslim population, which is described as the fastest-growing religious segment worldwide and expected to account for 26 percent of the world’s population by 2030.

Furthermore, the demographics of this group have evolved, there is a growing middle class with more disposable income, along with a younger population who are shaping the future of travel through their purchasing behaviour and strong viewpoints.

Corroborating that a discernible shift has been observed, Hewitson expounded, “I think the industry has noticed that the Muslim leisure tourist is relatively younger, with a high disposable income and an increased inclination to travel.”

Not only are the characteristics of Muslim travellers changing but so is the travel industry.

GMTI 2017 highlighted that rapidly evolving technology as well as better access to the Internet and smartphones has empowered Muslims, giving them access to more travel information.

Expanding on this point, Secgin added that younger generations of Muslim travellers, as well being more affluent and Internet savvy, have adapted different lifestyles which include annual beach holidays and several short city breaks per year.

On top of this, he continued, “They are less willing to compromise their religious beliefs during their holiday and thus are looking for hotels which cater for their specific needs.”

Moreover, the availability of Halal-friendly travel services and facilities was listed as another vital factor by GMTI 2017 in boosting the growth of this sector.

Fadhlillah pinpointed that on the Salam Standard platform, which has around 55,000 hotels indexed, there has been a noticeable trend of properties upgrading their facilities and service to move from the Bronze category to reach Gold certification in a year.

Fadhlillah elaborated, “This shows that many hotels realise the importance and significance to their own revenue, booking numbers and satisfaction of their guests to provide for this group of travellers too [...].”