HONG KONG – Boosting itself as a beacon of entertainment and cheap shopping, Hong Kong is vying to take a share of growing Muslim visitors from the Middle East, despite lack of enough mosques and halal outlets.
“We are committed to continue to conduct our marketing program and keep investing in the Middle East region because we believe it will continue to bring us growth,” Anthony Lau, executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, told CNN.
Known for entertainment and cheaper shopping, Hong Kong has been an attraction for tourists in recent years.
Last year, 28 million visitors from mainland China came to Hong Kong, a city of just 7 million residents.
However, the city has failed to attract Muslim visitors, especially from the Middle East.
More than 1.6 million tourists from the Middle East visit Asia annually, a peak from only 600,000 a decade ago. However, a small portion of travelers visited Hong Kong.
Last year, only 200,000 visitors from the Middle East visited Hong Kong, less than a tenth of the total tourists to the city.
This prompted authorities in Hong Kong to look into ways to attract more Muslim travelers to visit the city.
It has boosted itself as a gateway to China, a magnet for Muslim tourists to visit Disneyland and Mickey Mouse.
There is between 20,000 and 100,000 Muslims in Hong Kong.
The majority of Muslims are Hui people (Chinese Muslim), with the rest mainly from Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Middle Eastern and African countries.
Hong Kong officials opine that building more mosques and opening new halal places would help attract more Muslim travelers to visit the city.
“We could think about building a few more mosques for the Middle East people,” Edwin Lau, vice-president of Emirates Airlines Hong Kong, told CNN.
Hong Kong has only five mosques that serve the city’s Muslim inhabitants.
“And we should also set up some halal restaurants in Hong Kong, which suit the taste of the Middle East people.”
The concept of halal, — meaning permissible in Arabic — has traditionally been applied to food.
Muslims should only eat meat from livestock slaughtered by a sharp knife from their necks, and the name of Allah, the Arabic word for God, must be mentioned.
Now other goods and services can also be certified as halal, including cosmetics, clothing, pharmaceuticals and financial services.
China has now 20 million Muslims, about half of them being from the Hui ethnic group.
Unofficially, Muslim groups say the number is even higher, stating that there are from 65-100 million Muslims in China — up to 7.5 percent of the population.