By WANGUI MAINA, www.businessdailyafrica.com
Kenya’s tourism sector has yet to tap into the lucrative halal travel that is quickly gaining popularity.
However, industry insiders say investors are working on proposals to set up facilities in Maasai Mara and the Kenyan Coast that could see the country attract more Muslim tourists, especially from the Middle East.
Halal travel is a relatively new concept that is gaining popularity globally as demand for products and services permitted by Islam extend beyond food and banking.
Asia, Middle East and Turkey have taken the lead with tourist destinations like Kenya and South Africa considering the concept.
Affluent Muslim travellers are making their influence felt by opting to travel to destinations and staying in places that accommodate their needs, mainly which operate within the boundaries of their religious beliefs.
Mr Mohammed Jamaa of Sagal Travel says that there has been an increased demand for halal travel especially as establishments, mainly in Muslim countries, are opened to cater for this segment of the market.
“There is demand for this kind of travel and it is gaining popularity,” he said in an earlier interview with Business Daily.
Sagal Travel is a Kenyan-based company that offers travel options for Muslims ranging from Halal travel to the Hajj.
Though Kenya has no property that is fully halal, hotels ensure that their food is prepared in accordance with Islamic law.
“Generally we have halal food and ensure that it is served in the right way,” said Mr Mark Gathuri, the general manager of Nairobi Serena Hotel, adding that Muslim guest inquire about the preparation and storage of the food.
Halal is an Arabic term meaning “permissible” and although frequently linked to food, it refers to anything that is allowed under Islam.
A fully compliant halal property may be expected to have markers in the hotel rooms pointing to Mecca, have no alcohol policies and provide separate dining and entertainment facilities for men and women.
Halal travel has been popularised mainly by Mr Fazal Bahardeen, a former corporate executive who after spending years staying at hotels that did not cater to his region started the halal rating company Crescent Trading.
The company rates hotels on their friendliness to Muslim travellers.
“The halal consciousness is rapidly going beyond food and finance,” he said in a recent interview with online travel website eturbonews.com.
He added that Muslim travellers account for seven to eight per cent of global tourism expenditure, which totalled to around $930 billion last year, up form just three to four per cent 10 years ago. This share is expected to grow.
The Halal Friendly Rating for Travel and Tourism services was launched last October.
The highest rating is a seven with only Dubai’s Al Jawhara Garden Hotel ranked in this category, while three hotels in Saudi Arabia and one in South Africa being rated six.
Airlines are also embracing the industry with some of the companies behind airline food announcing plans to make the majority of its meals halal.
Most airlines offer a halal option though the meals have to be made and stored separately to comply with Muslim dietary rules thus increasing costs for airlines.
In a bid to lower this cost Swiss based GateGourment, which caters for major long-haul flights from Heathrow and other parts of Europe, recently announced it would make this move.
This is also expected to help it tap into the lucrative business available from Middle Eastern and Asian airlines.
Various countries, especially those with a large Muslim population, have organisations that help in the development of the industry.
Fazal Bahardeen will be speaking on Halal Friendly Travel at the World Halal Forum Europe, 10-11 November 2010, Earl’s Court Convention Centre, London, UK. Please look on the Home page of HalalFocus for our Special Reader Offer to attend.