Opinion: Muslim travel industry projected to grow to $200 billion by 2020

 By Sarah Wali – Gulf News

The Muslim population is rapidly increasing, and is expected to grow to 26.5 percent of the global population by 2030. This population segment offers one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, driven by products and services that are in line with Islamic beliefs such as Islamic banking, halal food and the Muslim travel sector.

In 2014, 108 million Muslim visitors represented 10 percent of the travel economy by spending $145muslim travellers billion on holidays and trips. According to CrescentRating, the world’s leading authority on halal-friendly travel, this number is forecast to grow to 250 million visitors with a market value projected at $200 billion by 2020.

Gulf News Journal spoke with Anas Kasak, chief marketing officer at CrescentRating, to find out more about the fast-growing Muslim travel industry and its potential for the Gulf region.

Q. How much of the Muslim travel industry is coming to and from the Gulf states?

A. As you would imagine, destinations in the Middle East have a significant presence in the (Global Muslim Travel Index) GMTI with four members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) being represented in the top 10 (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) OIC destinations. UAE is ranked in third position behind Turkey and Malaysia that took the top spot. Saudi Arabia was ranked fourth, while Qatar came in at fifth and Oman completed the quartet of GCC destinations in seventh position.

Unsurprisingly, when analyzing on the Muslim arrivals front, Saudi Arabia welcomed the highest number of Muslim visitors across the world in 2014 with 10.2 million visitors.

UAE saw a healthy number of Muslim visitors with 2.9 million Muslim arrivals accounting for 27 percent of total arrivals to the Gulf destination. Oman recorded 670,000 Muslim arrivals, while Qatar welcomed 348,000 Muslim arrivals.

There is no doubt destinations within the GCC have a distinct advantage in the Muslim travel market due to having comprehensive, Muslim-friendly facilities and services by default due to being Muslim-majority destinations. Communication is also an advantage with the Arab and English language being two of the main languages being spoken by Muslim travelers.

However, there is a still a requirement to create a clear and coherent strategy across every level to fully maximize their attractiveness to Muslim tourists by continually enhancing services and capabilities.Those destinations that pay close attention to these indicators and continue to amplify their efforts will be the ones that benefit in the long term.

Q. Do recent events impact the Halal tourism industry, particularly in the Gulf? 

A. The Muslim travel sector will continue to grow as long as the economy continues to grow. Ultimately, where the Muslim traveler chooses as a destination will be determined by whichever destination they feel caters for their specific needs.

Q. What is your projection for the industry in the coming years? 

A. The Muslim Travel Market is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the world today and has been growing every year. The “MasterCard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index 2015 revealed that in 2014, there were 108 million Muslim travelers spending $145 billion. This is expected to grow to 150 million travelers in 2020 spending $200 billion.

The Muslim consumer is younger, with a high disposable income and an increased propensity to travel. These are the biggest factors that will continue to drive huge growth in this market.

Q. What are the industry’s biggest challenges in the next five years?

A. As the market matures, destinations will need to continue to educate, enhance their current offerings, look for new trends in the market such as the growth of family travel within the Muslim market and increase investments on infrastructure and marketing because other destinations are also becoming more competitive and looking to penetrate the market.

Q. Tell us about CrescentRating. 

A. CrescentRating is the world’s leading authority on halal-friendly travel. The company’s vision is to lead, innovate and drive this agenda through practical and deliverable solutions in what is regarded today as the fastest-growing segment in the tourism sector.

The company uses insight, industry intelligence, lifestyle, behavior and research on the needs of the Muslim traveler to deliver authoritative guidance on all aspects of halal-friendly travel to organizations across the globe.

Formed in 2009, CrescentRating services are now used by every tier of the tourism industry globally, from government bodies (and) tourism agencies to hospitality service providers, on how they can meet and serve the needs of the Muslim traveler.

Its unique rating service, which combines detailed analysis, assessment and religious benchmarking, is now heralded as the premier halal standard for the industry. Over 200 hotels and restaurants are currently using the “CrescentRated” service to date.

Its annual “MasterCard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index is an in-depth report which analyzes the travel behavior of Muslims around the world. The GMTI is now seen as the benchmark for the industry and a valuable resource for those currently in the sector and those looking to create opportunities.

The overarching aim of CrescentRating is to enable Muslim travelers to explore every part of the world with the satisfaction that their needs and requirements are being met.

Our main headquarters are based in Singapore with offices in the U.K. and Japan. Our aim is to open an office in every major destination in the world within the next five years to service the demand. We are currently talking with a number of potential partners in the Gulf state about having a presence in a region, which we feel is key for our ongoing growth.