For one of the fastest growing segments of the global travel industry, there is no pork or alcohol on the restaurant dinner menus.
There are flights with no alcohol, resorts with separate swimming pools for men and women, and itineraries with built-in break times for the five daily calls to prayer.
Since 2016, the number of Muslim travelers has grown nearly 30% and a recent joint study by MasterCard and Crescent Rating, a research group that tracks halal-friendly travel, projects that over the next decade that sector’s contribution to the global economy will jump to $300 billion (AED 996 billion) from $180bn.
With a population that is disproportionately young, educated and upwardly mobile, they are one of the fastest-growing demographics on the global tourism scene.
But this wasn’t always the case.
In 2015, Shafreen Ansari went road-tripping through Asia with her husband and her then 6-month-old baby. The trio visited Singapore and Malaysia, then caught a flight to South Korea and on to Japan. The trip was thrilling, but Shafreen and her husband, who are observant Muslims, found the daily search for halaal-certified food a difficult one.
shafreen, who is based in London, began blogging about the best Muslim-friendly restaurants she found, as well as prayer facilities and sites that were particularly welcoming for a family with a young baby. Those musings turned into Halal Travel Guide, an online platform offering tips, recommendations and curated itineraries for Muslim travelers.
Her timing was right.
“In Europe, the Muslim community is now in its third or fourth generation. They are educated and have good paying jobs,” said Ufuk Secgin, chief marketing officer for Halal Booking, a Muslim-focused vacation search engine. “For the first generation, their idea of a holiday was visiting the family in the home country. This has changed.”
At ITB Asia in October, a leading travel show held in Singapore, organisers partnered with two halal travel authorities, Crescent Rating and Halal Trip, to offer specialised panel discussions and showcases targeting the estimated 156 million Muslims who will book travel between now and 2020.
At the heart of much of the discussion was matters of the belly. For Muslim travellers, “the number one factor is good quality halal food,” Hamdi said in an email exchange.
“I’m not talking about curry or biryani – I’m talking about authentic local food that is halal. After that, it’s usually prayer facilities.”
Tourists’ global demand for halal food has grown so much, in fact, that Have Halal Will Travel, a Singapore-based online community for Muslim travellers, has also partnered with ITB Asia with a three-hour conference and special booth space focusing on foodie-centric outreach to the Muslim tourism sector.
Many of the bloggers interviewed for this article echoed the same sentiment: Their goal is not just to make it easier for Muslim travellers to find food, prayer spaces and alcohol-free activities that appeal to them. It’s also to support those travellers to branch out of their comfort zones and feel empowered exploring the world.
“We specialise in pushing people to non-Muslim majority companies,” said Goh. “The most popular destinations we work on are Japan and Korea. Our audience is young – 25 to 30 years old – and very influenced by K-pop and Instagram, so we write a lot about how welcoming those places are.”
Shafreen of Halal Travel Guide agreed. “We encourage Muslims to seek culturally immersive travel experiences outside of the traditional Muslim-friendly destinations such as Dubai and Morocco,” she said.
“Muslims are looking for added value to their trips – from private beaches where women can bathe without men to disturb them, and more than this, trips that offer the Muslim travellers the chance to experience something completely different.”