Tourism, one of the growing halal markets is yet to be tapped into in Spain. Revisiting the 2015 WIEF Roundtable in Spain, here’s what halal industry experts had to say about the potential of halal tourism.
Dr Irfan Ahmad, founder and chief executive officer of Irhal, the UAE, shared some perspectives based on his personal experience regarding the challenges faced by Muslim travellers.
‘Muslim travellers are interested in looking at the sights just as much as a Chinese traveller or a traveller of the Christian faith or a traveller of the Jewish faith. But we also have a peculiar requirement of a dietary nature and because of our religious proclivities, we need to know where to go and say our prayers,’ he said.
Dr Irfan said that he had launched a travel website and mobile application, Irhal, to meet the needs of the Muslim traveller. ‘We currently have about 90 different city guides, which have halal restaurants, prayer times and the location of mosques for each city. We also have a mobile app which gives you the direction of Mecca for each of those cities,’ he said.
‘The dual-language (English-Arabic) website last year generated about one million visitors primarily from the Middle East. About 70 per cent of the traffic that comes to the site visits the Arabic section.’
Dr Irfan repeatedly stressed the importance of selling the heritage and culture of Córdoba to Muslim tourists while providing halal food to complement the experience.
‘Muslim tourists are just as interested in the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building and the Sydney Opera House. They’re not going to those cities just to eat halal food, so you should not be promoting yourself by saying ‘Córdoba has halal food, come and visit us.’
Dr Irfan said that what attracted him to Córdoba was the Muslim heritage evident in the city’s architecture and culture. However, he acknowledged that Muslim tourists do need halal food, therefore Córdoba could do several things to attract them such as making some of its restaurants more Muslim-friendly.
‘You have an excellent marketing opportunity right now. Starting in the middle of April is the fifth season of Game of Thrones-the biggest TV programme in the world today with the largest television audience-which was shot partly in Andalusia and in Seville,’ he said, adding that Córdoba should capitalise on this opportunity to attract visitors.
He also suggested that Córdoba should promote itself for photoshoots or organise friendly football matches among Spanish teams to attract the Middle Eastern fan base.
‘You’ve got to sell and promote your country and what you have. Yes, Islamic tourism is there and there is an aspect of halal food that has to be catered for. But those are small and trivial things that are so easy to implement. Promote yourself aggressively in the region for what you have, and bring that Islamic element in with the fact that the capital of the Muslim World-or all of Europe-was [once] Córdoba,’ he said.
To complete the Muslim traveller’s experience, services such as the UK- based HalalBooking website have been established to provide online accommodation booking services for halal holidays. Enver Çebi, co-founder of HalalBooking, explained that Muslim travellers could filter their choice of hotels based on criteria such as dedicated women-only pools, halal menus and other halal services.
‘We are a global company with customers from 73 countries so far. We provide the booking engine in six different languages: English, German, French, Russian, Turkish and Arabic. We offer booking services in 45 different currencies and we have local call-centre numbers in 24 countries,’ he said.
Considering the fact that two million Muslim tourists visited Spain each year, Enver noted that the country needed to find ways to attract more Muslim travellers from all over the world. He suggested that Spain should focus on Western Europe and the Gulf countries to take advantage of the great Islamic heritage of Córdoba and Andalusia.
‘Córdoba is ideal for combining a city break with a beach holiday in a single trip. In a city break, Muslim travellers look for hotels with halal food, non-alcoholic drinks, Qibla direction in rooms and prayer rugs, which add value to their stay,’ he said.
A city break could also offer tours to Islamic heritage other historical sites such as the Great Mosque, the Roman bridge, the Torre de la Calahorra and Madinat al-Zahra in Córdoba. He added that halal dining was important on these tours as Muslim travellers would want a taste of local cuisine too.’Beach resorts require the following elements: halal food; non-alcoholic drinks; dedicated women-only leisure facilities, such as swimming pools, spas and saunas; as well as Qibla direction and entertainment programmes,’ said Enver.
The halal way
He concluded with the point that HalalBooking could share market insights with local hoteliers, design hotel facilities and itineraries for Muslim travellers as well as help hoteliers’ investors visit HalalBooking hotels in other destinations to familiarise themselves with the requirements.
Fazal Bahardeen, chief executive officer of CrescentRating, Singapore, agreed that educating the travel industry about the Muslim market was crucial if Spain wanted to get into halal tourism-travel operators had to have a good understanding of what halal meant.
‘An estimated 2.5 million out of the 67 million tourists who come to Spain are Muslims, which constitutes only about four per cent of the total,’ he said, adding that this figure was below the 10-12 per cent of the global Muslim travel market.
Spain, therefore, had a huge opportunity to increase its Muslim tourist arrivals to at least six to seven per cent, he said, and services such as Crescent Rating-with its sister brand HalalTrip-could improve the halal tourism industry on the whole and enable service providers to cater to Muslim travellers.
‘CrescentRating offers rating and accreditation for hotels, travel agents and tour packages with the aim of bringing a kind of a global standard to the services offered across the whole value chain of the travel industry. HalalTrip, like Irhal and HalalBooking, helps Muslim travellers to understand and make inspired and educated choices when they plan their trips,’ Fazal said.
This is based on a report from the WIEF Roundtable in Spain in 2015.
Photo by Anastasiia Tarasova on Unsplash