Have you heard of “Halal tourism” before? Does it mean that is there is halal tourism there also “Haram (forbidden) tourism”?
With the spread of Islam, and the number of Muslims reaching 1.6 billion in 2010 according to Pew institute, the word halal has become synonymous with anything that follows Islamic Sharia, or traditions. The word does not mean that anything else is haram, but it is the easier option for those who want to follow Islamic sharia.
Tourism is an important source of revenue for many countries. In order to support this sector of the economy, companies and organizations try to offer the best choices for tourists.
The tourism sector constitutes 8.4% of the GDP in the UAE according to the World Travel and Tourism Council with 126.7 billion Dirham. This number is expected to increase by 3.8% by 2025.
Travel and tourism companies and websites have been coming up with various solutions in the tourism sector in order to meet travelers’ needs to enjoy their vacation and relax. It is the case for those looking for halal tourism, or Islamic tourism.
Sharia or Business?
If you type in the word halal on google, you will be surprised by the amount of halal things you can get. Some are things that will never cross your mind: Halal nail polish, halal love, halal vacation, halal money transfer, and of course the one we all know, halal food.
While it is obvious and normal for muslims to look for halal food when they are in non-muslim countries, there are many questions about halal tourism in muslim countries.
Do Muslims really need this kind of special tourism? In other words, if women are allowed to go swim in clothing that abides by Sharia, what is the purpose of having touristic spots for halal tourism? Is it a religious requirement, or just another way to further isolate Muslims from other people? Is it a business idea to tap into a large muslim market, where arabs are a big component, and known around the world for being big spenders? Can islamic hotels and resorts reach the standards and compete with other hotels and resorts? Or will they count on the religious aspect of the idea and the religiosity of its patrons to succeed?
Where does the name come from?
According to Tarek Rushdi, marketing director at Halal Booking, “The concept of halal resorts started in Turkey years ago. Some entrepreneurs noticed the needs of muslim travelers, and that they are not met properly.”
The term halal tourism then spread when these Turkish resorts became well known around the world especially for practicing Muslims in western Europe. Websites offering such services to tourists and travelers appeared, such as Halaltrip and Halalbooking.
These websites offer all the needs for the practicing Muslim travelers, from restaurants and mosques, to Islamic history and some of the most well know touristic locations in cities around the world.
Women only beaches: a main attraction
There are more than 50 halal resorts in Turkey, 20 in Antalia alone. These resorts serve halal meat, do not serve alcohol, and they offer beaches, spas, and pools for women only, as well as services for families.
Rushdi explains that “Muslims do not go to these hotels and resorts looking for halal food, but the main attractions are the services offered to women only, such as beaches, that many tourists find more fun, because women can wear whatever they want instead of the burkini.”
These resorts also offer mixed beaches but with a dress code suitable for practicing muslims.
A promising industry
Every year, a summit for halal tourism is held by those interested in this industry.
These meetings try not to be simply about explaining the topic, but present some of the initiatives that exist in this field, and propose plans for developing it. They bring together entrepreneurs and investors, in order to encourage this kind of travel and tourism.
Is Halal tourism about religion or business?
What is the difference between halal light, halal normal, and halal strong?
According to the summit’s website, family friendly tourism is one of the fastest growing fields in international tourism, if we exclude pilgrimage and Hajj. This kind of tourism is mostly popular in Muslim majority countries, and among the Muslim communities in Europe and North America, India and China, but also among non-muslims. Its value is expected to exceed 238 billion USD by 2019.
Muslim tourism economy
The Muslim economy around the world is around 1.9 trillion dollars according to a report by Thomson Reuters and the Dinar Standard supported by the Dubai Islamic Economy Development Center. The report includes local and international results for 73 countries.
According to this report, it is expected that Muslim spending on tourism will reach 243 billion USD by 2021. This number might explain the strong motivation to invest in halal tourism, even for resorts and companies that are not owned by Muslims.
Halal light, halal normal, and halal strong
One good example is My Premium Europe, a website that specializes in catering to Muslim customers only. Peter Zombori, the website’s CEO in Switzerland says that the number of travelers who are looking for this kind of tourism is growing, but he identifies three types of halal services.
There is ‘halal light’, which is offered in many hotels in Europe and is in high demand. This type includes providing halal food, and not having alcohol in the room’s mini-fridge, as well as the presence of a Koran in the room.
Zombori says that the website gets around 5000 tourism demands in Europe, 300 of which are for halal trips, and most of it are halal light.
Second we have, ‘halal normal’, this category includes special times for women at the pools and spas and so on.
Third, and finally, we have ‘halal strong’, which is difficult to find, and almost impossible in Switzerland and Europe. This requires hotels that are already designed for that purpose, so that men and women sleep in separate sections, and all other services are also divided by gender.
Is it really a different service?
Hotels and resorts providing halal strong service, move away from anything that is against Islamic Sharia. They make sure to provide halal food, and the necessary accessories for prayer in the rooms, as well as removing any improper TV channels, and providing women only beaches and spas.
Ghada Salem, an Egyptian woman who prefers these kinds of hotels, says that the absence of bars in these hotels is one of the main attractions for her to go there: “These hotels are safe for families with young children, as they do not have to see the bar patrons leaving the bars drunk.”
For her, the quality of these hotels is not any lower than in any equivalent fancy hotels, but they simply provide the kind of services that Muslims and sometimes non-Muslims would appreciate.
Different religions, same demands
Rushdi explains that many of the users come from Western Europe, some conservatives who are not Muslim might even choose to go to such resorts because of the privacy provided for women and the absence of alcohol, but these remain a minority.
While some see halal tourism as simply providing for the needs of some muslims, the reality that cannot be denied, is that it is also a way to make profits. In other words, it is good business for hotel owners and websites providing these services, especially when taking in consideration the large spending that Arab tourists are known for when they travel with their families for extended periods of time in one place.
Can this kind of tourism be seen as another way to preserve religious identity, just like any other aspect of Islam and its rituals? Or is it a real need for Muslims that some companies were quick to find interest in, turning the idea into a full fledged sector that is attracting more and more clients every day and making more and more profits?