The international tourism industry is gradually awakening to an emerging travel market that is twice the size of China’s, and bigger than that of the US – affluent Muslim holidaymakers with money to spend. At the world’s largest travel trade show, which wrapped up in Germany last month, attendees at ITB Berlin heard that Muslim holidaymakers spend more than US$126bil (RM389bil) annually on tourism – and that the numbers are rising.
It’s a market that forward-thinking countries such as Australia and New Zealand have been catering to, launching special Muslim-oriented travel products that respond to their dietary and religious needs. Queensland Tourism, for instance, has set up a special website dedicated to halal travel for tourists that includes a listing of halal restaurants and mosques. Last year, the website pitched the Gold Coast as the destination to spend Ramadan with the tagline: “Why not try Gold Coast for a cooler Ramadan this year?”.
During the Muslim holy month, Surfers Paradise Marriott Courtyard also sets up a Ramadan Lounge where Muslim guests can break their fast with dates, snacks and coffee – all efforts that have helped increase the number of Muslim visitors by 38%, each of whom spend on average A$7,000 (RM22,500) a head, ITB attendees heard.
Similarly, New Zealand’s tourism office launched a new culinary tourism guide last year, listing halal restaurants and cafes, including vegetarian, vegan and halal-certified dishes. The guide is distributed among travel agents and New Zealand embassies.
Aside from meeting dietary requirements, catering to Muslim travel needs ranges from offering prayer rooms, prayer rugs, pre-sunrise breakfast services during Ramadan, to family-friendly, alcohol-free hotels with separate wellness areas for women.
Meanwhile, Muslim travel consultancy group Crescentrating named Malaysia the world’s best Muslim-friendly holiday destination last year based on factors such as safety, Muslim-centred hotel amenities, and access to halal food and prayer facilities. For example, it’s not uncommon to find prayer rooms in airports, shopping malls and other public spaces in Malaysia.