From halal spas to prayer rooms at airport terminals, the global tourism industry is gearing up for a projected boom in Muslim travel over the next decade, experts say.
Their growing number and affluence means Muslims — especially from the oil-rich Middle East — are traveling like never before, and the trend that looks set to gather pace.
Spending by Muslim tourists is growing faster than the global rate and is forecast to reach US$192 billion a year by 2020, up from US$126 billion last year, a study found.
The study was conducted in 47 countries by Singapore-based halal travel specialist Crescentrating, along with DinarStandard, a US-based firm that tracks the Muslim lifestyle market.
Crescentrating chief executive Fazal Bahardeen said Muslim-majority states such as Egypt, Malaysia and Indonesia were already favorite destinations, but non-Islamic countries are now “taking a serious look” at Muslim holidaymakers.
Malaysia, the No. 1 destination according to the findings, attracts Muslim visitors even during the ongoing fasting month of Ramadan.
The availability of halal food tops the list of Muslim travelers’ requirements, according to the survey.
Destinations such as Thailand and Australia, especially the Gold Coast, are already taking into account these travelers’ needs in their services and facilities, Fazal said.
That includes prayer rooms at airports and hotels, halal restaurants and even spas adapted to religious requirements.
The Economist Intelligence Unit said in a March report that meeting the needs of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims is fueling business opportunities in numerous sectors.
“From food and Islamic finance, the industry is spreading its wings into pharmaceuticals, fashion and tourism, among many other areas,” it said, adding that more than half of the world’s Muslim population is aged 24 or younger, many of them well-educated.
Thailand is hungrily eyeing the Muslim travel boom. Its tourism authority is promoting halal spas for Muslim tourists, who require strict privacy for male and female clients.
Crescentrating’s study ranked Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport the most Islam-friendly airport in a non-Muslim country and also found that tourists from the Gulf — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — are the biggest spenders.
Gulf countries accounted for 37 percent of Muslim tourist spending last year though they represent just 3 percent of the global Muslim population.