The tallest hotel in the world opened its gilded doors in Dubai last month, and it’s a halal hotel. Peaking at 356 meters, the 75-storey property is located on Dubai’s arterial Sheikh Zayed Road, just metres away from JW Marriott, which used to be the world’s tallest hotel. Gevora Hotel features 528 guest rooms and suites, five restaurants, and all the trappings of a five-star luxury property, including a spa on the 71st floor, with stunning views of the fast-evolving emirate of Dubai.
Gevora Hotel, developed by the local real estate conglomerate Al Attar Properties, joins a host of other regional hotels that have opted to tailor make their services to suit the needs of the growing Muslim market. In 2016, there were 121 million Muslim international travellers. MasterCard and Crescent Rating’s Global Muslim Travel Index 2017 projects this number will grow to 156 million by 2020, where the travel expenditure by Muslim travellers is expected to reach $220 billion.
According to Amadeus, halal tourism numbers are expected to hit 150 million in travellers’ volume and collective spend is estimated to be $200 billion by 2020. Based on a report by Thomson Reuters, the global market for halal food and lifestyle sector including travel, fashion, media and recreation, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics will increase to $2.6 trillion by 2020. Another study, commissioned by the Government of Dubai in 2016 and produced by Thomson Reuters in collaboration with DinarStandard says that halal tourism market represents 11.6 per cent of global tourism expenditure – excluding Hajj and Umrah – and is expected to be worth $238 billion by 2019.
The numbers are striking and require one to sit up and take notice. It’s no wonder that halal travel is in the news now more than ever before.
Last month alone, regional halal hospitality brand Shaza Hotels announced the signing of its third Mysk project in the Middle East, Mysk by Shaza, on the iconic Palm Jumeirah in Dubai. The announcement follows the signing of Mysk Kuwait and the official opening of Mysk Al Mouj in Muscat.
Another key halal hospitality brand Jannah Hotels has several operating properties in the UAE: Jannah Burj Al Sarab, Jannah Marina Bay Suites, Jannah Place Dubai Marina, Jannah Resort & Villas Ras Al Khaimah, Jannah Place Villas Ras Al Khaimah and Jannah Place City Center. Upcoming properties in the pipeline include Jannah Creek Dubai and Jannah Ras Al Khor, Sharjah.
There are several other brands and sub-brands of hotels in the region that have opted to cater to halal customers in the region.
Despite the rapidly growing portfolio of halal hotels in the UAE, there are still lots of gaps in the UAE halal hotel segment, it emerged from a panel discussion about halal travel, which TTN moderated at Gulf and Indian Ocean Hotel Investors' Summit last month in Abu Dhabi. There is room in the market yet for a truly halal beach property in Dubai, says Enver Cebi, chief operating officer and co-founder of Halalbooking.com, and one of the panellists. Muslim travellers who visit his website are increasingly enquiring about halal beach properties in the chic neighbourhoods of Dubai and opting for city properties or booking outside Dubai.
Halal hotels do not serve any alcohol on their properties and the food is prepared according to halal standards and excludes certain kinds of meat. However, halal hotels are a lot more than just ‘dry’ hotels that do not serve hard beverages, says Nehme Darwiche, founder of Darwiche Worldwide Legacy, a conglomerate of different businesses, one of which is halal hospitality.
Regardless of their nationality, Muslim travellers have some specific faith-based needs when travelling. Prayer timings and direction to Kibla, praying facilities, are some key requirements for halal travellers in a hotel room, especially when someone is travelling to a different time zone. A Koran in the room is also an important addition. Apart from certified halal food, toilets need to have water facilities, there should be separate spa/swimming pool timings or areas for men and women, there should be food service during Ramadan, etc. But perhaps the main requirement is for the staff to be aware of the needs of Muslim travellers and be respectful of them, so they feel welcome.
Cities such as Istanbul have increased brand empathy for better client connection, leading to a more inclusive travel experience. The recently opened Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet, tucked amidst the vibrant streets of Old Istanbul, also adopts a halal approach towards hospitality.
Muslim travel in the past tended to be dominated by families, Fazal Bahardeen, CEO of Singapore-based Crescent Rating and HalalTrip, told the 25th World Travel Monitor Forum last month. However, millennials (born between 1980 and 2000), who make up 60 per cent of the global Muslim population, are now travelling in much greater numbers. By 2016, 36 per cent of Muslim travellers were millennials, and this share is likely to continue rising, he said.
“Muslim millennial travellers will significantly reshape the Muslim travel market,” Bahardeen predicted. “By 2026, the overall Muslim travel market is expected to grow to overall spending of $300 billion, with millennials accounting for over $100 billion of this total."
These Muslim millennials will share many general travel characteristics with other young people of their generation. Thus, they will want authentic travel experiences such as discovering destinations and trying local cuisines, while taking advantage of affordable transportation and accommodation and making extensive use of technology and social media.
At present, Asia and Europe are the two main destination regions for Muslim travellers. In terms of regional markets, the GCC states, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, represent the biggest outbound market by spending, although not by numbers. South-East Asia, including Malaysia and Indonesia, is the next biggest market. In Europe, the UK, Germany and France jointly account for about 10 to 12 per cent of Muslim outbound travel spending. Turkey and Iran are other significant markets.
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