Is Islamic Travel on the rise?

The first International Islamic Travel Conference was held in Kuala Lumpur on 29-30 October 2010 and Dr. Irfan Ahmad, the CEO of was one of the speakers at the event. There was a lot of talk about Islamic or Halal Travel and the desire to encourage travelers from Muslim countries to visit and explore other Muslim countries. But is Islamic Tourism a reality or just wishful thinking?

Travel trends did change after 9/11. Travelers from the Middle East diverted their focus to Indonesia and Malaysia and away from both Europe and the United States due to the immediate aftermath of the rising anti-Muslim sentiments in the West. Ten years on, these xenophobic sentiments still persist. The world’s headlines still talk about “Minarets banned in Switzerland,” “Belgium bans Muslim veil,” “French Senate votes to ban Islamic face veil,” etc. Even the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, wants “Muslim immigrants to learn German and adopt Christian values.” But has this stopped visitors from going to Europe?

We looked at the six months of statistics we have generated on from April to October 2010 and can safely say that the Middle East traveler is not focusing on Islamic travel destinations – yet! Travel decisions are affected by what is on offer. Yes, providing halal food and prayer facilities help and they certainly were responsible for making Zurich and Geneva popular destinations during Ramadan, but it is the whole mix of what is on offer and how successfully it is marketed that influences the Middle East traveler.

Of the top 25 most popular destinations on the Arabic section of, only 11 cities were from Muslim countries. On the English language site, only 5 cities were from Muslim countries.

If Islamic countries want to promote travel from the Middle East they have to be more aggressive in their marketing and have to entice their prospects with the facilities they provide.

Here are the top 25 most popular destinations during April-October 2010 on the English section of

1 – Chicago 10 – Barcelona 19 – Doha
2 – Montreal 11 – Mexico City 20 – Hong Kong
3 – New Delhi 12 – Nairobi 21 – Sao Paulo
4 – Johannesburg 13 – Colombo 22 – Istanbul
5 – Frankfurt 14 – Vienna 23 – Athens
6 – London 15 – Muscat 24 – Paris
7 – Dubai 16 – Geneva 25 – Ho Chi Minh City
8 – Dublin 17 – Bangkok
9 – Almaty 18 – Munich

This analysis is based on the behavior of more than 278,000 unique visitors who visited and during April-October 2010. 23% of the visitors came from Saudi Arabia, 21% from the UAE and the rest from other Middle East and North African countries. About 12% came from outside the MENA region.