Dubai leads growing halal travel market

From Emirates 24/7  | By Keith J Fermandez & Martin Abbugao | August 22nd 2010 After Islamic food and banking, travel turns Shari...

From Emirates 24/7 | By Keith J Fermandez & Martin Abbugao | August 22nd 2010

After Islamic food and banking, travel turns Sharia-compliant; sector set to hit $100bn in two years
The Jumeirah mosque in Dubai is a big draw for tourists of all nationalities and religions (FILE)
A Dubai hotel has earned the world’s highest halal ranking in a new list of Sharia-compliant hotels, showing that the emirate leads the burgeoning new sector that is halal travel.
The Al Jawhara Garden Hotel in Deira is the only hotel in the world to earn seven points on the Crescentrating hotel grading system, which marks hotels on a scale of one to seven according to the availability of halal food as well as prayer rooms and mats – and the non-availability of forbidden items like alcohol and adult TV channels.
"Jawhara has taken into consideration all aspects of guest requirements to create a truly unique family-friendly environment offering traditional Islamic hospitality,” said Fazal Bahardeen, CEO of Crescentrating, which is believed to be the only company in the world that rates hotels globally for their friendliness to Muslim travellers. Its online booking portal also promotes halal tours.
Hotels from 14 countries have now joined the growing list of Crescentrated Hotels. A total of 10 UAE hotels were given Crescenratings.
Halal travel boom
Bahardeen’s new website is a personal response to a frustration at the lack of halal-certified travel facilities. "Half of my life was spent in hotels and airplanes," Bahardeen, a former jet-setting telecom executive, was quoted as saying by the AFP newswire. "But being a Muslim, I was getting frustrated by the travel industry or the hotels not being able to provide the right services. You don't know what the prayer time is, where the prayer direction is, and you can't find halal food."
As a result, he said, ready-to-eat meals were a regular part of his luggage until he resigned his job at a major telecom firm in 2006 to set up his own company.
And he’s benefitting from a boom in halal travel, which is gaining popularity as demand for products and services permitted by Islam extends beyond food and interest-free financial instruments, and affluent Muslim travellers make their influence felt. Halal travel is expected to be worth $100 billion (Dh367bn) annually within two years, he said.
Travel commentator Yeoh Siew Hoon was quoted by AFP as saying there is a real demand for halal travel, led by tourists from Southeast Asia and the Middle East. "Take Indonesia – it is one of the fastest growing outbound markets in Asia, and is the number one source of visitors to Singapore," said Yeoh, who operates an industry website
Tourism Australia also produces a guide to halal restaurants due to the growing numbers of travellers from Muslim countries.
Earlier this month, Emirates24|7 reported on how travel trade in the Gold Coast and in Zurich are reaching out to Middle Eastern tourists with halal products and services.
But a fair amount of demand for halal services also comes from markets such as India and China, which have sizeable Muslim popuations. Greg Duffell, chief executive of the Bangkok-based Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), said a lot of suppliers are now amending their products to meet halal standards.
"It is a trend that started a few years ago. Since then, restaurants and resorts in Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam too have begun adapting their standards, so it's beginning to branch out," he said. "There are more designated halal restaurants in hotels now, and prayer facilities on the premises, especially at the airports."
The halal food industry is worth $600 billion to $650 billion a year, according to Bahardeen and industry reports. Islamic finance meanwhile boomed when Muslims began to look for investments approved by their religion, and the sector has attracted non-Muslims too after the global financial crisis.
"The halal consciousness is rapidly going beyond food and finance," said Bahardeen, arguing that with 1.6 billion increasingly wealthy Muslims worldwide, halal-friendly travel is likely to be the next growth area.
Muslim travellers account for seven to eight per cent of global tourism expenditure, which totalled around $930 billion in 2009, up from just three-four per cent 10 years ago, Fazal said. This share is expected to expand to 10 per cent in the next two years.
Wide ratings
Crescentrating's hotel grading system ranges from one to seven, with a rating of one being given to a hotel with no halal facilities but whose employees are trained to answer questions from Muslim guests.
This can be raised a notch if the hotel has a list of halal-certified restaurants in its vicinity – even if it does not have one itself. The company's highest ratings, six and seven, require a hotel to be free of alcohol, discos and TV channels showing movies unsuitable for families and children. In addition, all food and beverages must be halal.
Crescentrating also hopes to stamp halal-friendly ratings on theme parks, convention venues, cruise ships, shopping malls and hospitals used by medical tourists.
Globally, Al Jawhara Garden Hotel leads the halal ratings, with three hotels in Saudi Arabia and one in South Africa rated six on Crescentrating’s scale.
The Al Jawhara group is part of the S S Lootah Group, a diversified business segment in construction, ready-mix, and IT Solutions. “We are very happy to be the first hotel in the world to be given the highest rating of seven by Crescentrating. As a pioneer in Islamic hospitality, we have been setting benchmarking trends in shariah-compliant service offerings and are committed to strengthen Dubai's position as a leader in the sector through Jawhara's three-decade expertise", commented Nasser Lootah, member of the Board of Directors of SS Lootah Group and CEO of its hospitality arms, Al Jawhara Group of Hotels and Lootah Hotel Management.
Beyond catering certified halal food, offering prayer-related facilities and an alcohol free environment, Jawhara also provides separate amenities for men and women and other shariah-compliant hospitality services in-line with the heritage of the region, catering to the privacy and family-oriented needs of the Gulf society. (With inputs from AFP)


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