By Kim Rahn
The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) has offered about 40 travel agents
and guides a lecture on Islamic culture and introduced a Halal food
lunchbox and tour programs tailor-made for Muslims in a bid to attract
more Muslim tourists here.
Hanyang University professor Lee Hee-soo gave an orientation on
how Muslims in the Middle East and Southeast Asia have developed their
traditions on food and other living styles, such as eating meat only
from certain animals slaughtered in a special way.
Annie Yu, director of an inbound travel agency Plaza 21 Plus, has been
arranging programs for travelers from Middle Eastern countries,
including Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. But the director
acknowledged, “I learned that I’ve been so ignorant of Islamic culture
even though I have developed tour programs for Muslim travelers.”
The biggest obstacle to attracting Muslim tourists is strict rules on
food and prayer, the agents said. It is not easy to prepare “Halal
food” in this non-Islamic country and ensure tourists can pray in the
direction of Mecca five times a day.
“Halal restaurants are very rare here, and there are almost none
outside Seoul, Busan and Jeju. So we take Muslim travelers to seafood
restaurants, Indian or Pakistani eateries, or vegetarian restaurants,”
said Bob Lee, sales manager and guide at Jacky Travel Service.
Bill Yi, a freelance guide, said, “Some tourists do not eat food even
at vegetarian restaurants, thinking the chefs may use the same knife in
cutting both vegetables and meat slaughtered in a non-Halal way. Some
bring their own food with them, such as noodles, and eat only them.”
To cope with the food trouble, the KTO held a sampling party of a Halal food lunchbox.
“It is `Korea-style Halal’ lunchbox. As ordinary Korean restaurants do
not offer Halal meat, it was not easy for Muslim visitors to try Korean
foods like `bulgogi,’ which they learned about through Korean movies
and dramas. So, the lunchbox was designed to provide Muslim travelers
with Halal food and to publicize Korean food at the same time,” Joo
Sung-hee, a KTO manager, said.
For prayer, the agents usually ask Halal restaurants to prepare a space
for Muslim tourists, Lee said. Joo said only a few tourist
destinations, including Everland and Nami Island, have prayer rooms.
The KTO recently opened a prayer room at the Tourism Information Center
on the first basement floor of its headquarters, so that Muslim
tourists can visit. The carpeted room has a compass showing the
direction of Mecca.
The tourism body also introduced a program at Bukchon Hanok Village
near Insa-dong, in which visitors can try a traditional Korean way of
dyeing with indigo plant. “After dyeing cloth, Muslim women travelers
can use it as hijab,” Joo said.
She said that people from the Middle East are usually family tourists,
enjoying shopping and visiting hallyu destinations and theme parks.
Their interest in medical tourism here is also growing. Many from
Southeast Asia are incentive traveler groups, and they prefer seasonal
attractions, such as skiing in winter and flower festivals in spring,
“We believe the Muslim market with a 1.3 billion population has good
potential. We hope the lecture and the programs we offered today will
help attract more Muslim travelers,” Joo said.