Opinion: Muslim countries missing tourism opportunities

Non-Muslim does better at providing Halal tourism

By Zaher Bitar, Gulf News

Dubai: The performance of the halal travel and tourism industries in non-Muslim countries is outperforming the same sectors in the Muslim countries, expert in the filed said yesterday at the Global Islamic Economy Summit 2013. They called upon the Organisation Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to step in and pay attention to the potential embedded in these sectors.

Photo: Salama Evans

“Currently non-Muslim countries are the most desirable destinations for halal tourism, as it is seen in the current uptrend in halal tourism in New Zealand and Australia,” said Elnur Seyidli, chairman of the board of Crescent Tours in UK.

Giving an example how the non-Muslim world is targeting the potential of this market, he added that today in Japan there is a prayer room in the airport as well as halal media provided in most of its hotels. In addition, they intend to introduce Japanese food in halal restaurants.

Globally Europe is the most popular destination region in terms of a number of arrivals based on 2012 report released by Thomson Reuters. France top the list with 83 million tourist arrivals, followed by US 67 million, china 58 million, Spain 58 million, Turkey was ranked 6th globally and Malaysia 10th in the list.

From the Muslim majority countries of the OIC, top destination were Turkey with 35.6 million tourists, Malaysia with 25 million, and Saudi Arabia, which includes Haj and Umarah, at 13.6 million. The UAE saw 9 million visitors.

One of the strongest indicator of the growth of Muslim countries as a tourist destination is that four, Istanbul, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta, of the five fastest growing airports in the world are from Muslim countries.

“While there is a huge investment potential in these sectors, OIC is lacking efforts. [They are] getting too relaxed and secured with the idea that they are Muslim countries,” said Fazal Bahardeen, CEO of Crescent rating in Singapore.

Hani Lashin, Group General Manager of Al Jawahara Group Hotels in the UAE criticised some Muslim countries for lagging behind. He critisied Egypt, saying there are not clear-cut standards to identify travel or hospitality as halal. He also said that more training is needed to staff for Muslim customer.

According to the Thomson Reuters report, Iran tops the list of Muslim countries in terms of travel expenditure at $18.2 billion followed by Saudi Arabia at $17.1 billion, UAE at $10.1 billion, Kuwait at $7.4 billion, Indonesia at $7.2 billion and Qatar at 5.7 billion.

Global Muslim spending on tourism is $137 billion in 2012, excluding Haj and Umarah, making a 12.5 per cent of the global expenditure which estimated at $1.095 billion, according to the report. According to Bahardeen, Muslim tourism expenditures is expected to grow to $181 billion in 2018. Tourists from GGC countries spend the most, 31 per cent of the total Muslim travel dollars spent. The key segments of the global travel industry include food and beverage and infrastructural needs, such as transport, lodging and attractions.