By AYA BATRAWY, Associated Press
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A rental company in Orlando, Florida, is offering “halal vacation homes” with curtained pool decks and rooms with prayer mats and copies of the Quran. A British company’s app lists gourmet restaurants serving halal meat in London and Dubai, while a Boston-based developer’s app offers travel guides for 90 cities with local prayer times and a compass pointing Muslims toward Mecca for daily prayers.
The so-called “halal tourism” market was once seen as a niche revenue stream, limited to pilgrimages like the multi-billion dollar-a-year revenue stream generated by Muslim travelers to Mecca.
But now there’s a movement in the tourism industry to widen the “halal tourism” market to cater to Muslim travelers worldwide, particularly those from wealthy Gulf Arab states.
Travelers from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman will spend $64 billion traveling this year and are expected to spend $216 billion by 2030, according to a 2014 study for the travel tech company Amadeus. The study found that, on average, a traveler from these countries spends around $9,900 per trip outside the Gulf. For Emiratis, the figure reaches $10,400.
Reem El Shafaki, a senior associate at the advisory firm Dinar Standard, said Ritz-Carlton hotels in Dallas and New York offer a good example of what hotels are doing to better serve Muslim guests. They provide halal meals upon request, have Middle Eastern chefs on staff, offer rooms with spaces that allow for gender-segregated settings and have trained frontline staff on other cultural norms.
Dinar Standard has conducted webinars for Marriott hotel staff on how to take care of Muslim guests, but El Shafaki says the hospitality industry can also market to Muslims without alienating non-Muslims. “What some hotels and destinations are doing is that they’re using the term ‘family friendly’,” she said at a conference this week in Abu Dhabi, which brought people from across the budding industry to explore the topic.
Halal in Islam literally means that which is permissible. Observant Muslims typically avoid alcohol and areas where there can be excessive nudity, like beaches and nightclubs. For women who adhere to Islam’s modest dress code, swimming can pose a challenge. That means resorts that offer gender-segregated beaches and pools have an advantage.
Roberto Silva of Florida Reality Investments says the company took 50 of its rental properties and outfitted them with a few
changes, like curtains around the pool deck, to make them more comfortable for their many Gulf Arab customers, who often travel as large families to Orlando for several weeks at a time and want to be near Disney World and other parks.
“I would love to do more … Los Angeles and San Diego, there are a lot of people going there, and also New York,” he said from his stand at the World Halal Travel Summit and Exhibition in Abu Dhabi.
Along Turkey’s southern coast, several all-inclusive resorts have expansive private beaches and pools for women. One resort even built a structure in the sea to keep people on boats from catching a glimpse. Malaysia is also aggressively seeking more Muslim tourists, promoting itself as “Muslim-friendly Malaysia” in brochures at the Abu Dhabi conference.
Elnur Seyidli, chairman of a website called HalalBooking.com, says his company has served 43,000 customers from 75 countries. The website can filter requests to find hotels that do not serve any alcohol, or hotels that only serve alcohol in some restaurants. For meat, which should be slaughtered according to Islamic rules, the website offers filters ranging from food that is all halal, or halal meat available upon request.