People, Travel

$142 Billion Muslim Travel Market Augurs Well for Iran

$142 Billion Muslim Travel Market Augurs Well for Iran $142 Billion Muslim Travel Market Augurs Well for Iran

Halal tourism is now making its mark in the global tourism market. The State of the Global Islamic Economy 2015/2016 report, produced by Thomson Reuters in collaboration with DinarStandard, USA, says that the global Muslim travel market was worth $142 billion in 2014 (excluding the hajj and Umrah) — 11% of total global expenditure in that year. The sector is expected to be worth $238 billion by 2020, representing 13% of global expenditure.

The scarcity of “Islamic tourism destinations” that can accommodate Muslims needs has limited the growing Muslim population from traveling extensively. Thus, there is a need to develop more Islamic tourism destinations and halal tourism products or services to cater to the growing demand.

“Iran in fact has many great products to offer to Muslim tourists, especially from Malaysia,”  Zulkafli Daud, the chief executive of Malaysian Tourism Council, who made a brief tourism-study tour to Iran earlier this month, told me.

“Iran has 19 UNESCO-listed World Heritage Sites which we in Malaysia don’t have. Some of those are related to Islamic civilization or the pre-Islamic era which are relevant and very important to Muslims who want to learn more about global Islamic civilization.”

He added that due to Iran’s wide-ranging Islamic heritage sites, especially the UNESCO-listed ones, and the country’s ability to provide halal services, “Iran is well-positioned to benefit from Islamic tourism.”

Muslim travelers, like other conventional tourists, want to visit destinations that have something new and unique to offer.  

“But in order to attract more Muslims, these tourism products or destinations must be accompanied by other Muslim-friendly services or hospitality. Destinations may only attract tourists once, but friendly services or hospitality will help ensure repeat visits. This is what we have in Malaysia”, said Daud, who is also advisor to the Malaysian Islamic Tourism Association.

 “Compared to Iran, we in Malaysia have fewer Islamic heritage sites and destinations to offer, but we strive more on creating unique services which helps Muslim tourists feel comfortable in Malaysia.

“This has helped Malaysia become the number one destination for Muslims tourists, with tourists citing Malaysia’s ‘Muslim friendly services’ as our main strength. This quality can be fostered in Iran because all Muslims have this quality,” he reiterated

With the lifting of economic sanctions, Iran can now realize its potential for Islamic and halal tourism, especially from ASEAN countries which are home to approximately 300 million Muslims, and Malaysia can be Iran’s “marketing partner” in the ASEAN region.

  Family-Friendly Product

A component of Islamic tourism, halal tourism includes offering fully Sharia-compliant services and products by tourism-related service providers such as hotels, restaurants, malls and entertainment venues.  Halal tourism is a new, family-friendly product in the tourism industry which provides services to Muslims who abide by Sharia rules.

The report also revealed that the top source countries of Muslim tourists in 2014 were: Saudi Arabia ($17.8 billion), the UAE ($12.6 billion), Kuwait ($9.7 billion), Qatar ($9.5 billion), Indonesia ($7.6 billion) and Iran ($7.5 billion).

Regionally, Muslim tourism expenditure was the highest in the following regions: MENA-GCC ($52 billion), MENA-Other ($21 billion) and East Asia ($19 billion) followed by Western Europe ($16 billion) and Central Asia ($10 billion). MENA-GCC represent 37% of the total Muslim travel spending even though they are only 3% of the global Muslim population.

According to Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, halal tourism is growing at a rate of 6% per annum, making it the fastest growing sector of tourism in the world.

With these remarkable figures and with more than 1.6 billion Muslims in over 100 countries in the world, and the fact that Muslims are increasingly taking up traveling, halal tourism offers huge prospects and great potential.

Lately, more companies are announcing new plans and strategies to attract Muslim tourists with Sharia-compliant hotels, restaurants, travel agencies and spas. Even non-Muslim countries are showing great interest in attracting Muslim tourists and making extra effort to capture this dynamic and emerging market.

For example, Japanese airports are adding prayer rooms as well as halal restaurants. The country has also published a Muslim-friendly guide that provides information of interest to Muslim tourists. It is also conducting seminars to educate the tourism industry on how to cater to Muslims needs.

These facts and phenomena shows that Islamic and halal tourism is becoming an important element or component of the lucrative industry.