In this opinion piece published on Salaam Gateway, I reflect on the growth of Muslim-friendly tourism over the past decade.
I was introduced to the concept of halal tourism when I first joined DinarStandard in 2009. Our work focused on raising awareness among industry stakeholders about the Muslim marketplace and the basic needs of Muslim travelers.
We produced a global Muslim travel report in partnership with CrescentRating and held workshops to educate travel stakeholders. The conversation centered on the market size, the minimum requirements to address, and how industry leaders could focus on the Muslim market while keeping mainstream travelers happy.
Although these topics remain ongoing, the conversation has expanded to include how Muslim travelers can address sustainability issues and how to acknowledge the tayeb (pure and ethical) aspect of Muslim-friendly travel, in terms of doing no harm and benefiting the host community.
Halal consumer sentiment
As part of DinarStandard’s Muslim-friendly travel consulting practice, we researched consumer sentiment and preferences. In a 2016 social media listening research project, we found that 78% of interactions on the topic of halal travel were positive, only 6% were negative, while the rest were neutral. Hajj and umrah related keywords represented 61% of the interactions, indicating most Muslims defined halal tourism in terms of religious pilgrimage. I believe this is still the case today.
In one of our recent consumer surveys, 84% of respondents researched whether destinations fulfilled their religious needs. In the same study, 39% of respondents believed tourism destinations and brands were neglecting their religious needs. These findings indicate a significant lost opportunity for destinations and travel companies.
Amid a focus group we conducted with Gen Z and Millennial Muslim micro-influencers as part of the State of the Global Islamic Economy 2022 report, one respondent summed up Muslim travel nicely when she said, “Muslim-friendly travel for me is when the traveller can experience and enjoy activities in a country while still meeting their Islamic obligations.” One suggestion gleaned from the focus group was that travel organizations provide a more accurate image of the country for travelers to counteract all the negativity often highlighted in the news (like Islamophobic reporting and negative comments about the safety of the various destinations).
Recent industry shocks and silver linings
Despite the growth of halal travel, there are still speed bumps along the way. I witnessed the economic shock triggered by COVID-19, but also the sooner-than-expected changes driven by necessity. Trends projected for the next decade - touchless travel, robots, artificial intelligence (AI), and autonomous vehicles - were fast-tracked.
In the past year, I have experienced both a workation and medical tourism; the first in Turkey, and the second in Mexico. Both gave me a chance to fully experience each country instead of just passing through them.
Despite the progress made in halal travel, there is still a long way to go for full maturity. Earlier flagged issues still exist: no unified standards or terminology, limited awareness even among OIC countries, underdeveloped branding and fragmentation. These issues need to be addressed while the industry also contends with technological innovations on the horizon like driverless transportation, blockchain, artificial intelligence and robots as tourism workers.
With all the progress behind and possibilities ahead, I dream of a future in which Muslim-friendly travel fully embodies the teachings of Islam regarding responsible and sustainable tourism, that gives back to communities. I also look ahead to the day Muslim-friendly / halal travel is clearly defined, and the offerings standardized. I envision a future where numerous strong brands offer top-notch products and services, while deserving startups effortlessly raise the funding they need to thrive.