Not enough hotels cater to Muslim travellers

Number of Muslim travellers expected to grow to 168m in 2020, spending more than $200b

Gulf News

Dubai: More Muslims are travelling, but there is a lack of accommodation and trained hotel staff catering to them, according to industry experts at the Global Islamic Economy Summit on Wednesday.

In 2015, Muslim visitor arrivals were estimated at 117 million, representing 10 per cent of the entire travel economy. This is expected to grow to 168 million travellers in 2020, spending over $200 billion (Dh734 billion), according to the Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2016 report from MasterCard and CrescentRating, published last March.

A number of countries that are non Muslim-majority, such as Japan, South Korea and Sri Lanka are investing in halal tourism infrastructure to get a slice of this growing market, said Nabeel Shariff, director of the Luxury Halal Travel.

“We’re starting to see places like Canada for example looking at halal tourism. They’re a saturated market when it comes to current tourists that they have and they’re looking to branch into new markets. [They do this] to fill beds and compete with the rest of the world,” he added.

However, there is still a lack of hotels offering products and services that meet the needs of Muslims, such as halal food and separate swimming pools for men and women.

“Halal travel is about facilitating travel and making it easier for [travellers] to go on that journey … providing food and facilities within the hotel. Those are the things that matter,” said Omar Ahmed, founder of Sociable Earth in the UK, a site that provides Muslim travellers with information about tourist destinations.

Barriers to entry

Few hotels have trained staff that know how to interact with Muslims, Shariff added.

“There is a lack of training right on the ground. In countries that are non OIC, you have a guide meet someone at the airport and won’t know how to interact with them,” he said.

International hotel chains are also hesitant to brand their properties as halal, he said.

“We’ve got several barriers to entry. We’ve got a political landscape which is constantly changing. I don’t think many hotels, especially the multinational brands want to brand anything as Islamic or halal. That’s an image we have to change,” Shariff said.

The travel patterns of Muslims differ. While Muslim men are likely to spend two to three weeks in long haul destinations, Muslim women tend to spend around a week in closer destinations that are perceived as safe, Ahmed said.

Muslim travellers from the US, UK, Canada and the Gulf countries tend to be big spenders, while those from India, Indonesia and Bangladesh, who are predominantly business travellers, don’t spend as much on leisure travel, Shariff said.