With separate elevators for men and women, strict ‘no alcohol’ policies, segregated swimming pools and prayer mats as standard, halal hotels make it easier for Muslims, young and old, to experience the world.
In the last few years, there has been a noticeable rise in the number of these specialised guest houses, in a greater variety of destinations other than the Middle East and Indonesia. One of travel’s fastest growing markets, halal tourism will be worth an estimated $220 billion by 2020, according to analysts at Mastercard and Crescent Rating.
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Trend forecasters J. Walter Thompson Intelligence expect Muslim-friendly services to benefit from this increased spending power, aided by the fact that Islam will be the most populous religion in the world by 2070, according to the Pew Research Center.
Asia is one destination where halal tourism has already taken off. Thailand and Japan opened their first halal hotels last year, and Taiwan is making it a focus for the future. ‘They are tapping into a pre-existing Muslim market,’ J. Walter Thompson Intelligence analyst Mary Cass tells us. ‘But other halal products and services are also on the rise in countries like the US.’
Opened last year and built in the shadow of Mount Fuji, the Syariah Hotel Fujisan is expected to be a premier destination for Muslim travellers to Japan. Aside from prayer rooms and mats available for hire, the hotel shows thoughtful consideration for its key clientele. Its chefs have adapted a traditional Japanese menu with halal beef instead of pork, and each room has an arrow pointing to Mecca.
Strict rules about diet, dress and prayer mean that for many young Muslims, taking a holiday abroad can be less liberating than staying at home. At 23 years old, Islam has the youngest median age of all major religions, and halal hotels are also focusing on the needs of the next generation.
Antalya, on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, is known for its thriving party scene. But just a few miles from the strip, a different holiday experience attracts Muslims from around the world. Journalist Hanna Yusef tried a Muslim beach holiday and was pleasantly surprised by what she found.
‘With Nicki Minaj blasting on the speakers, one of the areas feels like a wild pool party – the kind that usually ends with a drunk person passing out on a lilo,’ she writes of her experience at the Bera Alanya Hotel. ‘Except nothing of the sort will happen here because of the hotel’s strict no alcohol policy. The only person on a lilo is a topless woman sunbathing, and I seem to be the only person who’s noticed her. This indifference to what women are wearing (or not) is one of the main benefits of single-sex swimming areas.’
Overall the experience is a positive one, although Yusef does wonder why there aren’t as many single sex beaches to enjoy. ‘I think this shift makes halal tourism a game changer for young Muslims, as it offers the option of exploring new places that aren’t necessarily in Muslim countries, while still feeling at home,’ she tells us.
Tour operators like HalalBooking.com also offer tailor-made packages that take into consideration the culinary needs of the practising Muslim traveller, while ensuring easy access to prayer facilities and privacy for both genders. They can even arrange for a halal grocery pack to be delivered on arrival and the holidays on offer vary from city breaks in Italy to spa getaways in Slovenia.
While the halal tourism industry is growing across Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia, there are still many destinations yet to embrace halal holiday options, such as South and Central America. With the Muslim-friendly travel market continuing to go from strength-to-strength, it hopefully won’t be long until they do and there will be even more options available to Muslims with wanderlust.
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