Are Asian Destinations Ready for the Growth of Muslim Travel? Part II

Writer Gary Bowerman returns for the second of his two-part series on the growth of Muslim travel. In this article, he  reports on the discussions from leading experts on emerging trends in halal travel, including culinary tourism, cultural immersion and the influential role of female travellers.

Read the first part here

The Muslim market is emerging as a powerful force in travel and tourism. As discussed in Part I of this article, the 2023 Mastercard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index expects 140 million Muslim visitor arrivals globally in 2023, rising to 230 million in 2028. This places Muslim travellers alongside China as the world’s largest outbound market.

There is a big difference, however. Muslim travellers seeking to discover the world while upholding the tenets of their faith hail from all continents, not a single – albeit continental sized – country. 

Worldwide, the halal lifestyle economy is booming. DinarStandard’s 2022 State of the Global Islamic Economy Report estimates Muslims spent US$2 trillion in 2021 on food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, modest fashion, travel and media. This figure is forecast to reach US$2.8 trillion in 2025. Fashion and athleisure, skincare, food, healthcare and wellness brands and banks are competing to tap the evolving lifestyle aspirations of young Muslim consumers. Travel is intrinsic to the overall economy because it unleashes spending power across various related sectors, such as retail, dining and entertainment. 

“While they may be culturally diverse or geographically distributed, Muslim consumers globally drive a cohesive opportunity across a range of lifestyle products and services,” notes the report. 

A Positive Ripple Effect 

Beneath the spectacular statistics exists a nuanced picture for destinations and travel marketers to grasp. 

“The Muslim travel market isn't a one-size-fits-all game. Comparing Western Muslims who've grown up in different cultural settings with those from the Gulf states or Southeast Asia, well, they're just not the same,” says Soumaya T. Hamdi, Managing Director at Halal Travel Guide. “For travellers from the Gulf, relaxation, lovely views, shopping and family-friendly villas or luxury hotels often top their priority-list. Muslim travellers from the UK, Europe, and North America seem to crave a bit more adventure and cultural immersion.” 

Culture-specific experiences are gaining popularity. “We’ve noticed there is a greater demand to explore Muslim heritage and culture in London and elsewhere in the UK,” said Abdul Maalik Tailor, Founder of Halal Tourism Britain and Britain’s first qualified Muslim Tour guide, during the 2023 Halal in Travel Global Summit in June. “Muslim tourists want to know where the first Mosque was in London, and where were the first Eid prayers conducted.” 

Although it is a broadly defined market, positive news travels fast, says Anis Ramli, Founder of Halaluxe, an online platform for Muslim luxury travellers: “The ripple effect of a positive experience can be significant in the world of Muslim travellers. As more individuals hear about and seek out destinations and properties that prioritise inclusivity and halal mindfulness, this leads to increased visibility and reputation boost.” 

Halal Dining and Travel

One aspect that unites Muslim travellers from around the world is a desire for good food. During the recent 2023 Halal in Travel Global Summit, Fazal Bahardeen, founder of the Global Muslim Travel Index, trailed the new HalalTrip Gastronomy Awards. This new standard in halal dining will be launched in 2024 in partnership with the Singapore Halal Culinary Federation. 

“We want the HalalTrip Gastronomy Awards to be as authentic as the Michelin star standard for culinary excellence in the halal dining ecosystem,” says Bahardeen. “Today’s Muslim diners are seeking out destinations that offer a diverse range of quality halal cuisines. This trend reflects a broader shift in halal dining, with a focus on quality, creativity and a wide array of options.” 

The intrinsic details of halal dining are critical, says Anis Ramli, who is curating a luxury retreat at Pangkor Laut resort in Malaysia. “It’s important to know a resort can cater to a halal diet. It is not just about offering halal meat options, but demonstrating the ability to store and prepare meals without cross-contamination with non-permissible items. This is vital to ensure participants do not have any doubts on their dining and their overall retreat experience.” 

Rising Influence of Female Travellers 

Also widely agreed upon is the increasingly influential role of female Muslim travellers. “A few things are changing. Many more Muslim women in Asia are breaking into the workforce, and because of that they have more independence to travel alone, which is still a small segment, or they are travelling in women-only groups,” says Fazal Bahardeen. 

Female Muslim travellers are helping shape new trends in the tourism industry. Image: Photo by Harits Mustya Pratama on Unsplash  

Soumaya T. Hamdi, agrees: “When we’ve surveyed female Muslim travellers, we’ve found 98% actively participate in planning their travels and holidays. When they travel with family, they are the ones researching where to go, where to stay, activities to enjoy and places to eat. So they are the key influencers,” she says. “We are also witnessing an increasing number of Muslim women who are willing to travel independently, either solo or on a group tour. Around 70% of our ticket sales are from solo female travellers. A growing number of women-founded travel organisations are catering to demand from female Muslim travellers.” 

When it comes to the specific requirements of women travellers, Anis Ramli identifies “safety, comfort and privacy” as priorities. “This group is just like any other traveller. They want the same experiences but they also value their comfort, without having to compromise on their modesty,” she says. “When visiting a spa, for example, they want to be confident about protecting their modesty. Perhaps swap the standard issue bathrobe for a floor-length one, and have a dedicated spa area for women.” 

“Ultimately, she adds, “It’s the combination of understanding and empathising with the values and sensitivities of female Muslim guests and just making them feel at home and respected.”

Banner image: Photo by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash  

- Asia Media Centre