Is enough being done to attract Muslim travellers to Singapore?

Many retailers and brands have understood the importance of targeting the Muslim consumer. Just recently, Marketing wrote about brands making such as Uniqlo, D&G, Mango and H&M making a into Islamic fashion.

The travel industry too has woken up to the potential of Muslim tourists. Late last year the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) said it would set aside approximately 15% of its  marketing budget to promote the country as a Muslim friendly. Meanwhile, according to a report on The Gulf News, hotels globally are looking to become fully halal as the number of Muslim travellers are set to increase from 108 million in 2014 to 150 million by 2020.

Yet, a recent article on local newspaper The Straits Times reported that Muslim travellers to Singapore are likely to dip after the year 2020, due to the predicted rise of United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Oman. This was conclusion was reached from the data acquired from CrescentRating’s Global Muslim Travel Index 2016 and the Ramadan Travel Report 2016.

Although the original report, as seen by Marketing did not specifically point to the dipping of Muslim traveller footfall locally, it still begged the question on whether enough is being done to attract this growing market.

In a statement to Marketing, Leong Yue Kheong, assistant chief executive (International Group) at  Singapore Tourism Board, defended Singapore's position saying it will "remain an attractive destination to Muslim travellers" due to "a sense of familiarity" and harmony when they step into Singapore.

From Halal food choices and places to fulfil religious obligations while on vacations widely available, Leong added that Singapore also has an extensive variety of family-friendly attractions. The experiences Muslim travellers get in Singapore ensures there is always something which will appeal to those from the Middle East. He said:

Nonetheless, STB strives to ensure Singapore remains a unique destination through the injection of appropriate content that will create memorable experiences and not only attract new visitors, but also bring back repeat visitors.

He added that to target this group of travellers, the STB also released a Halal travel guide for Muslim travellers in Malaysia and Indonesia – in conjunction with luxury-fashion magazine Glam and Glam Lelaki (Malaysia) and travel publication Panorama Magazine (Indonesia). The travel guide details the wide selection of Halal food and facilities, as well as the various ethnic landmarks and precincts in Singapore.

Currently, STB also has an office in Dubai which works with trade partners in the Middle East to increase the awareness and affinity of Singapore as an ideal holiday destination, said Leong. This includes embarking on partnerships to promote the destination across the region, and developing new marketing materials that are culturally sensitive and appropriate for this market.

“In keeping with the market trends, STB also seeks to engage travellers more actively through digital and social media channels with the aim of creating a community of travel advocates for Singapore,” Leong said.

Can more be done?

Agreeing with Leong, was professor Cedomir Nestorovic, director, executive MBA Asia Pacific, ESSEC Business School, who added Singapore has been especially popular with Muslim travellers as they often come travelling in huge groups and families. As such, the issue of healthcare and safety are of big concern to these families.

These travellers are also known to stay for an extended period of time – sometimes this can be as long as the entire month of Ramadan, explained Nestorovic. Hence, one way the government can continue luring them in is by having a superior healthcare system and infrastructure.

But nonetheless, he added:

Although Singapore welcomes Muslim travellers, nothing is actively being done to attract them.

In the short term, Singapore’s position as a top-destination for Muslim travellers will not be impacted due to its strong position in the heart of Muslim travellers. However, in the mid to long term , it may lose out to other countries which are making a stronger marketing push to attract Muslim travellers to its destinations such as Thailand, Japan and South Korea.

Singapore is not losing popularity because of its diminishing appeal; it is losing its popularity because other countries have more to offer.

To attract millennial Muslim travellers, Nestorovic said that having international tie ups with other Asian countries such as Thailand, South Korea and Japan can be useful in helping Singapore expand its offerings. One example of such an initiative is travel package strategies.

“This will not only smooth the transition process for Muslim travellers taking time to visit Asia between countries, it will also provide a greater ease of mind and further strengthen Singapore’s position as a central hub in Southeast Asia where travellers can get all they need before heading to their next destination,” Nestorovic added.

Q Akashah, executive director at Islamic branding consultancy OgilvyNoor Singapore said that there is an opportunity for Singapore to focus more on destination branding to attract Muslim visitors, and not just from Muslim-majority markets.

“A strong spirit of community is key in Muslim cultures and is well reflected in Singapore. We could look to attract Muslim visitors from Muslim-minority markets to Singapore during Ramadan so that they too can experience and immerse themselves in this community spirit during a significant occasion on the Muslim calendar,” she said.

However, there needs to be a thought through plan to attract Muslim visitors, especially as we are seeing the disposable incomes of this consumer segment increasing alongside their desire to travel the world, she added.

She also pointed out Japan as a case study with its focus on showing the nation's Muslim-friendliness.

“It has been making consistent efforts over the past few years and it is at multiple levels - not just in showcasing to visitors the ease of accessing halal authentic Japanese food, but also at a government-to-government level. This reflects how seriously they are taking this,” Akashah said.

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