By Mustafa Adil
In the halal travel space, the terminology that providers use to describe what is on offer can define what kind of response they will receive. Will customers book a room at your “Shariah-compliant” hotel or would they prefer a “Muslim-friendly” hotel? Will they search for a “halal holiday” or an “Islamic holiday”?
Providers in the halal space often use different terminology to describe what is on offer and it is important to understand that these various terms can hold a different meaning for people depending on which part of the world they are from. Having an understanding of this fact and fully engaging with the implications of this reality will ensure that you are fully equipped to properly manoeuvre the ever profitable halal travel space.
Terms used by industry providers
Before looking at the implications, it is best to first explore and determine the various kinds of terminology currently out there in the landscape. HalalBooking.com, a travel website for Muslim travellers uses the term “halal holidays”. “Many customers want their top 5-10 halalness priorities to be addressed first, thus technically the best term to use is ‘halal holidays’”, says Elnur Seyidli, chairman of the board at the company.
Sofyan Hotels, a group of Shariah-compliant three and four-star hotels in Indonesia catering to Muslim guests, on the other hand, uses the term “Shariah-compliant” to describe its hotels, which are Shariah-certified.
On the other end of the spectrum, Shaza Hotels, a luxury hotel operator with hotels in the Middle East, does not use any of the above terminology on its website or marketing material even though it serves the religious needs of Muslims in terms of offering halal food, not serving alcohol at their hotels and providing Qur’ans and prayer rugs in the rooms. They also have prayer rooms and separate spa facilities and swimming pools for men and women. The focus of Shaza Hotels’ branding is instead on Arabian hospitality in a modern luxurious setting. CrescentRating, a Singapore-based company that rates hotels, resorts and destinations on their halal-friendliness, prefer the term “Muslim-friendly travel”; Holiday Bosnia prefers to call the sector “Islamic travel”.
Clearly, the travel industry has not agreed on what each term implies and each player is applying his or her own interpretation of the terms.
To Sofyan Hotels, catering to Muslim guests means broadcasting the call to prayer within the hotel rooms, conducting congregational prayers and showing religious programming on their TV screens in the dining areas. To the Dorchester Hotel in London, it means offering halal food and shifting the times of operational staff during Ramadan to accommodate late-night requests of fasting guests. To the beach resorts in Southern Turkey, it means dedicating swimming pools, beaches and spa areas for women only, in addition to providing halal food and implementing a no alcohol policy.
Some hotels wishing to accommodate Muslim guests, while not alienating non-Muslims, avoid using “halal”, “Islamic” or even“Muslim-friendly” and instead use the term “family-friendly”. Al Jawhara, a Dubai-based hotel group, is doing just that. In their ads, Jawhara promotes its “unique family-oriented hospitality”, despite the fact that the hotel clearly caters to Muslim needs.
Another way to avoid the dilemma of marketing to Muslims, while not alienating others, is to market to the Muslim audience through targeted marketing channels, such as Muslim media, local publications in Muslim majority countries, as well as targeted ad campaigns.
Now that we have explored the landscape, we can appreciate that the kind of terminology used affects consumer perception of what is being offered, not to mention, consumers from different parts of the world have different expectations. For example, in general Muslims from the West find terms like “halal” and “Muslim-friendly” appealing; however, tell someone from the Arabian Gulf to go on an “Islamic” or “halal” holiday and they will conjure images of a religious holiday that does not involve recreational activities.
Differences between OIC and non-OIC in what halal means
“Halal” accommodation also means different things depending on the country you are visiting. When visiting a non-Muslim country, Muslims – in terms of having their religious needs met – are primarily concerned about finding halal food. They have lower expectations. If they are going to Paris, they would be happy if the hotel offers some halal food options, offers them directions to the closest mosque for Friday prayers, and removes the alcohol from their mini-bar.
Expectations for Muslim-majority countries are more sophisticated. Travellers expect that the Hotel is dry, that there is full accommodation for Ramadan meals and hours, that family-friendly and gender-segregated activities are provided.
Tellingly, one Muslim consumer from the UK, who was spending her vacation at one of Turkey’s halal resorts, commented on TripAdvisor that “the resort shouldn’t call itself halal” because popular music was played through loudspeakers, on the beach as well as in the swimming pool area.
Which terminology to use in your marketing
Given that Muslim travellers have different expectations in terms of fulfilling their religious requirements and the terminology used in describing the holiday, providers do not only need to adjust their offering based on their target markets, but should also tailor the terminology they use accordingly.
Marketing successes in the Muslim-friendly travel space will be highlighted at the Global Islamic Economy Summit GIES 2015 which will be held at the Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai, on 5-6 October. This summit will be a significant gathering of senior Islamic economy stakeholders and decision-makers debating the next phase of growth of this important new economic paradigm.
Mustafa Adil is acting head of Islamic finance at Thomson Reuters. The views expressed are personal.