Muslim Travel Guides – Sign of a Growing Travel Industry Trend

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Two Innovative Halal-Friendly Travel Advocates Roll Out Services for the Mobile Yet Observing Muslim

Traveling has always been an important element of Muslim lifestyle, with the first Muslims being the most advanced traders in Arabia. Furthermore, Muslims are collectively encouraged to travel the world to acquire knowledge.  Besides Umrah and Hajj, the modern-day setting provides even more reasons for Muslims to travel: business deals, family holidays, company trips, honeymoons, back-packing students, touristic ventures, just to name a few.

As the Muslim consumers across the world assert their unique needs, evident by the growth of Islamic finance and Halal food, the large travel and hospitality services market is also beginning to see a “halal” consumer impact.  This halal market of travel encompasses a plethora of genres that accommodate the traveling Muslims who would value amenities such as halal food, family friendly travel environment, prayer/ ablution facilities, religious travel services, separate men-women swim facilities etc.  In essence, halal-friendly travel encompasses everything that would traditionally fall under the ambit of the consumer travel & hospitality industry including tourism, hotels, dining and recreation.

High global Muslim population growth plays a big part in the relevance of this emerging market as with all other halal sectors.  A startling future projection has been made by a think-tank Free World Academy.  Using UN population data projections and its own analysis, it projects that the current 24% global Muslim population (1.65 billion; one man out of four), will become 33% in 2050 (2.9 billion; one man out of three.)   This was highlighted by Mr. David Smith, CEO of Global Futures and Foresight, at the recent International Halal Market Conference in Brunei.

In addition, countries like Malaysia and Turkey have already been targeted as the most attractive travel destination for the trendsetting Gulf Corporation Council (GCC) tourists.  Other niche destinations like Brunei are also gaining popularity.  With a fast growing Muslim population, the nascent halal-friendly travel industry is indeed a very attractive opportunity.

Emerging Innovations & Estimates

Seeing the emerging halal-friendly travel opportunity, a Singapore based entrepreneur, Mr. Fazal Bahardeen has launched an innovative halal friendly travel service called Crescent Rating. With a high calibre team driving the project coupled with commitment to research the halal-tourism market in depth, Chief Executive Officer Fazal Bahardeen estimates that there is market potential of USD100 billion being spent by Muslim travellers. “You can categorise them into three segments: those travellers who absolutely want halal-friendly facilities for their travel; those who will use halal-friendly facilities if such a choice exists, but will use any facility and services if there is no halal friendly choice available; and finally, those who are not really looking for halal friendly facilities.”

Mr Bahardeen further estimates a breakdown of 30%: 50%: 20% for the three respective segments, relaying that “under these assumptions, you can assume that 80% of the USD 100 billion is definitely, a very strong potential for Halal Friendly Travel.”

Crescentrating website

CrescentRating: “Halal Friendly” Hotel Rating System

Amidst the interesting revelations and developments in the services market tweaked with an Islamic flavor, the halal-friendly tourism industry has begun to meet the demand of the observant Muslim traveler. Fazal Bahardeen, who had spent a valuable part of his international career, based in Beijing, Paris, Singapore, Shanghai and then Hong Kong working for a multinational corporation, found that he had struggled to cope with the basic needs of the Muslim traveler. This included searching for halal dining and having facilities to perform prayers. In 2006, he decided to write a paper on a business model for Crescent Rating. He says “The proposal was to make the industry aware of the needs of this unique market segment through a “Halal Friendly” Hotel rating system,” truly believing that there were and still are plenty more Muslim travellers who share his frustrations. In October 2009, after having left the MNC he was working for, Crescent Rating was launched.

A visitor to Crescent Rating will find that the portal acts as any other travel portal, fully equipped with international hotel names, their locations, articles, reviews, search and booking facilities; tour guides, country guides, dining and even airport guides. However, this suite of services offers something unique – content is developed for the travel education of the Muslim traveler – therefore, the portal includes all vital information for Muslims who are looking for Muslim-friendly tours to those looking for a prayer room at an airport. In addition to that, the portal holds a wealth of information for Muslims, including qiblah directions, prayer times and even has a Musafir information centre, including featured travel dua’s, hadith and Masjids.

Crescent Ratings, in many words is a true innovation identifying and addressing a unique Muslim market need. Fazal Bahardeen has already received The Halal Journal Award for “Travel & Hospitality 2010” at the 5th World Halal Forum Gala Dinner in June 2010 in Kuala Lumpur for the portal’s innovative services in the halal-travel sector.

“From writing the initial paper in November 2006 to incorporating the company in December of 2008,” elaborates Bahardeen, “we did a quite a bit of research on the market as well as the needs of this market segment.  At the end of the day, I think it was turning what was a frustrating experience into somewhat of a passion.”  The service already has many global hotel brands as its clients.

Crescent Rating defines their halal friendliness hotels to the closest possible adherence that can relate to the needs of a Muslim. This, in many ways, says Bahardeen, allows hotels to also adjust to this new demand for the halal-conscious traveler as they may wish to amend or upgrade their services as they see fit. Crescent Rating generally looks into six salient “Halal Friendly” areas, namely: Salaat facilities, Halal food services, guest bathroom facilities, Ramadhan facilities, recreation facilities and services, and non-Halal activities.

HalalTrip:  Muslim-friendly Travel Service

Another halal travel service is Vienna, Austria based, HalalTrip, launched by Mr. Karim Saad  in March 2010. Translated into French, German and Turkish, HalalTrip is a free hotel review site geared towards the Muslim traveler. Each hotel profile includes information such as the availability of alcohol (thereby, the lack of alcohol), halal dining, and recreational activities (such as swimming pools) that cater for women only.

HalalTrip website

“We do have a very intensive research process to find adequate hotels for our listings,” explains CEO Karim Saad, “We are still in a process [to] hopefully list 1,000 hotels within the upcoming few weeks.” The website is geared towards hotel profiles that are the most beneficial for Muslim travelers coupled with reviews by travelers who have already experienced a stay. Mr Saad remains optimistic about developments, believing that the way hotel service providers are weighing towards the Muslim travel has the potential of pushing halal tourism towards mainstream travel.

Through his experience, even more hotels in Muslim-minority countries are opening up towards catering to Muslim travel. “More and more hotels are considering Muslim-friendly facilities like prayer rugs or information on halal restaurants within the area.”

The HalalTrip website also spawned a blog – both interesting and educational – for Muslims wishing to venture away from home. Tapping into the Muslim blogosphere, the blog’s posts cover historical Islamic monuments to the most modern internet and iPhone applications for Muslims to use while on the road. Mr Saad hopes to see the HalalTrip community convene at the HalalTrip website and blog to help provide fellow brother and sister Muslims with an even more enriching and halal-friendly traveling experience.

A Sector Attracting Money and Innovation

Beyond halal-hospitality review providers, major real-estate projects are being initiated to serve this growing trend.  The UAE based Al Jawhara Group of Hotels & Apartments have developed hotels that offer “offer traditional Islamic hospitality and complete halal hospitality.”  In 2006 KM Properties (as covered in a previous DinarStandard article), a real estate arm of the UAE-based Al Rostamani Enterprises, had announced forming a $2.3 billion Shari’ah-compliant fund to develop and own an international chain of hotels adhering to the Islamic principles of Shari’ah. In October 2007, another UAE-based hospitality group Almulla Hospitality launched a Shari’ah compliant hotel brand portfolio under three core brand names of Cliftonwood, Adham and Wings aiming to capture the GCC travelers who, according to World Tourism Organization, contribute over US$ 12 billion annually on leisure travel alone.

Many Muslim travelers want to be able to venture into any country like any tourist but travel in the Islamic way, knowing where halal dining was waiting for them and to have recreational activities that adhere to Islamic practice are available. Innovative service providers like Crescent Ratings and HalalTrip have made decision making with regards to Muslim-friendly travel definitely a more seamless event, with a new horizon of halal-travel information made available for Muslims to make the informed halal-friendly choice when abroad.  Other such services are also emerging such as – a GCC based halal travel review website.

Halal-friendly travel has a broad appeal. Muslims and non-Muslims can enjoy halal-friendliness when it comes to travelling. The Shari’ah-compliant chain of hotels, the Arabian Gulf Jawhara Hotels, reveals that 60% of its clientele are non-Muslims, who are attracted to the calmness and serenity that a family-friendly hotel has to offer. The market is therefore lucrative and thriving. With greater sensitivity to Muslim needs coupled with seamless information being compiled through the net, Muslim travel is set to be seen as an important element for Muslim lifestyle as it once was during the time of the Prophet.

Article printed from DinarStandard – Growth Strategies for Emerging Muslim Markets:

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