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Halal Tourism Market Takes Off

Already reaches $150 billion annually

Mish Tazin, a 24 year-old Muslim woman who works as a brand ambassador in London, had never traveled alone. One late night, while browsing Facebook, she came across a post about a Productive Muslim Retreat to Sri Lanka, which described itself as “the world’s first ever Halal personal development retreat.”

Halal, which means “permitted” in Arabic, refers to any object or action that is allowed according to Islamic law. It often refers to Muslim dietary laws, which forbid pork or alcohol, and mandate that animals be slaughtered in a certain way.

Tazin, who is of Bangladeshi origin, had never traveled alone, and wanted a vacation that included halal food, and a service project. She reserved her spot on the trip almost immediately and said she had made the right decision.

“When I go on holiday, whether the food is halal is a major concern,” she told The Media Line. “The fact that the food was taken care of, was one massive headache taken away from me. I was also interested in going to the local mosques.”

The week-long trip was not cheap – close to $2,500 plus airfare, but included all meals and excursions. She was the youngest of the group of 23, which included Muslims from around the world. There were several pairs of mothers and daughters, and the group quickly became almost a family. She said the trip exceeded her expectations and even strengthened her Muslim faith.

“Our day revolved around the (five times daily) prayer,” she said, adding that they prayed in both the hotel and in nearby mosques. “I never did this before, and now that I’ve come home I’ve been trying to do the same thing. I am so glad I did this.”

She said she especially enjoyed the chance to volunteer for half a day in an orphanage, as well as the beautiful country.

The Muslim retreat was sponsored by Halal Trip, a branch of Crescent Rating, an organization that caters to the halal travel market. That market has grown dramatically, and a recent report prepared together with Master Card found that the market includes 117 million Muslim visitors and an expenditure of $150 billion. By 2020 they expect the market to exceed $220 billion.

Crescent Rating categorizes hotels according to how “halal-friendly” they are. About one-third of Muslim religious travelers come from the Gulf region, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait, followed by Southeast Asia.

“In terms of halal travel, food is the most important issue,” Fazal Bahardeen, CEO of Crescent Rating told The Media Line. “But there are other issues like access to a private place to pray, and whether a hotel can cater to a traveler during Ramadan, the holy Muslim month of fasting.”

Muslims need to perform ablutions (cleansings) before praying, so hotels with a bidet or hand shower get a higher rating. Crescent Rating works with hotels and tourism boards to encourage more halal-friendly options.

Hotels are rated up to seven crescents, using a Muslim symbol. For example, the 345-room Japanese-owned Grand BlueWave Hotel in Shah Alam in Malaysia received the highest rating.

“All of our restaurants serve only halal food,” Mohd Ghazali, the hotel’s general manager told The Media Line. “We do not serve any liquor. We have a separate floor for ladies, and certain times that only ladies can use the gym and the pool.”

The hotel only stopped serving alcohol in 2013, and the increase in halal tourism more than offsets any loss of revenue, he said. Occasionally guests will ask for a drink, and hotel staff will direct them to a nearby restaurant that serves alcohol.

Malaysia, a Muslim majority country, is one of the top tourism destinations for halal travelers. Others include Indonesia, Singapore, and, until recently, Turkey. About a third of all travelers head for Europe, where it can be more challenging to find halal food.

Mish Tazin, who participated in the Productive Muslim Retreat, says she is already planning her next trip. The destination almost doesn’t matter, she says. What is important is the halal-friendly atmosphere, and the chance to observe her faith.