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Halal tourism: Definitely the next big thing

Buta?”

“No buta!”

This was the first word I learnt right before my honeymoon in Japan – “buta” is the Japanese word for pork. Being a newly reverted Muslim (or convert if you’d rather – but that’s a discussion for another day), I was determined not to taint my recently adopted faith with any consumption of pork.

On our first trip to Tokyo in 2015 – I came to realise the cuisine imitations one had in Japan when pork was a dietary restriction. Quite a number of Ramen, Omu Rice, Kushiyaki dishes contained pork, which meant my options were limited to Sushi, Chirashi Don, and Udon. I still vividly remember this scene: On the flight home from Tokyo, my poor husband had to console his teary wife because she was so disappointed that she didn’t get a taste of Japan’s most famous dish – ramen!

In the present day, the best piece of news for all Muslim tourists is that the Halal Tourism industry is undergoing a massive boom, which means more comfort and convenience for Muslims when they are travelling. According to the Islamic Economy Report, the industry is expected to reach US$274 billion revenue by 2023, an astronomical 55% growth from 2017.

The Baby Boomer Generation Muslims would have been content holidaying in Muslim-majority countries like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and closer to home; Indonesia and Malaysia. However, with the spending power of Muslims growing – they crave for more “exotic” locations – exploring London’s heritage, experiencing the rich culture and history of Japan and Spain, and even laying on the Australian beaches!

Many of these countries are slowly but surely seeing the potential of halal tourism – daily tour itineraries with built-in breaks for the five daily prayer calls, more mosques and prayer rooms are made available throughout the cities, the sprouting up of halal-friendly F&B establishments, hotels being made fully halal with no alcohol, and even separate pools, gyms, and spa services for men and women.

These young, educated, and mobile-first Muslim consumers are the fastest-growing demographics in the global tourism scene. The demand for authentic local halal food (and trust me, we’re not just into having biryani, curry and kebabs every single meal) has grown so much that the Singapore-based online community HaveHalalWillTravel.com reaches 8.6 million Muslims a month; making it one of the go-to sites for Muslim travellers looking for the must-visit halal joints in the next city they’re travelling to.

London-based HalalBooking.com, a market place for halal tourist accommodation is expected to achieve US$1.3 billion revenue by the end of 2021.

Even the Tourism Authority of Thailand launched an iOS and Android app to help Muslim travellers easily locate halal products and services – local prayer times, mosques, halal food options, shopping centres with prayer rooms, and even sightseeing tours.

Where safety concerns and basic halal requirements are being met, Muslim tourism will continue to grow rapidly. Halal tech firms have a first-mover advantage, but one can expect more of the major western online travel agencies looking to take a more significant share of this promising market.

Who is to say that we would not see the luxurious, all-inclusive Club Med having a resort that just fully caters to the needs of Muslim travellers? Will there even be more islands or cities that are made entirely Muslim-friendly? We can definitely expect more to come.

Thanks to the preparation for the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics – when I revisited Japan in 2018, it was heartwarming to see it welcome us back with many more new Muslim-friendly establishments. And guess what? I finally got my fill of authentic Japanese halal ramen. Lots of it.

The writer is Serene Loo, business director, GREY Indonesia.

(Photo courtesy: 123RF)

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