Report 1: According to the GMTI 2016 report by MasterCard and CrescentRating, the Muslim travel market is indeed a fast growing segment, with projections that it will increase from 117 million Muslim international travellers in 2015 to 168 million by 2020, representing a Halal tourism industry value then exceeding USD 200 billion (Noor, 2016).
So! The Muslims are bringing in some revenue and they are finally desirable by some tourism boards and some big companies that can finally see their financial worth. Even though, a lot of movies still brand Muslims as “poor and ignorant”, the reality is far from it. Educated, well travelled Muslims are the reality. The stereotype of filthy rich, poorly behaved Arab that can’t speak English is not really true anymore.
Newsflash: Not all Muslims are Arabs and not all Arabs are Muslims. Arabic is the main language of the Islamic holy book the Quran, but it doesn’t mean that all Muslims speak it.
I was part of a panel earlier this year and this question came up: How can brands improve their services to attract Muslim travellers? It got me thinking of suggestions that I could make to brands and business to be able to work with Muslims bette. I see some brands actually trying, but sadly failing because of the lack of knowledge out there. Therefore, I am going to address this in details and make this information available publicly and free for everyone for the greater good!
Report 2: According to the State of the Global Islamic Economy report, produced by Thomson Reuters in collaboration with DinarStandard, the global Muslim travel market was worth $140 billion in 2013, which represents 11.5% of global expenditure. The same report predicts that the segment is expected to be worth $238 billion in 2019 and represent 13% of global expenditure (Battour, 2017).
Ten ways for brands to attract Muslim travellers
Be mindful of privacy
The dream of so many Muslim women is to have a nice beach/pool day privately. Having this privacy option is amazing. It doesn’t have to be everyday, but if you already have an indoor pool or a private beach in your resort or hotel, Muslim women would appreciate it if you have an option for female-only users with female-only staff. In Budapest for examples, they have a women-only day in one of their thermal baths and that’s what I recommend to other Muslim travellers. I once stayed in a hotel in the off-season that had its own private beach and I could have tanned, but all the staff were men hovering around so I was wearing my modest clothing. Now, imagine, if there was one corner shielded from them allowing me to have “MY” privacy within that already private beach with women staff instead for like two hours of that day!! I would have raved about it forever, but that didn’t happen so I don’t mention it.
It’s not only about that luxury lifestyle. Privacy is so important even outside of the beach/spa experience. Travelling Muslim women want their privacy in practical matters too. For example, booking a hostel is so much easier if women can be able to tell the gender they will be sharing a room with. Mix dorms and unspecified are usually a no-go for Muslims.
Provide female-only activities
I get it that this is hard to control, but if you can, giving some options for female-only activities is a great idea. Also, women from other faiths LOVE this too! I went on a women only surfing retreat a while ago and all the other ladies were not even Muslims, but they wanted to feel at peace getting active and without feeling pressured with male energy. Extending the concept to women-only cycling groups or women only snorkeling or something is a fun idea. Keep in mind that for this idea to work, you would need women instructors and guides.
Treat your Muslim customers with respect
Consumers in general are very clever and they can see through the claims, so be truthful in your dealings. If a company is speaking to Muslims as deep pockets only without considering their preference and well-being then it’s a huge turn off. On occasions big names have shown islamophobic behaviour and that just discouraged the Muslim consumers.
Personalise Tours/activities for Muslims
I know this is not always an option, but if you have the ability to personalise tours and activities for Muslim customers (assuming they want that), please do so. When I go on generic day trips or bus tours in Europe, there has to be an alcohol related spot! Like a stop at the brewery or a wine making field or something of the sort, as a Muslim, I really don’t care for these stops. I usually just wander off or wait for the group to be done. If I had the option to avoid this and do something else, it will be even better!
Also, if you are a destination where Muslims have lived in the past like Portugal and Spain, it will be nice to incorporate these things in for Muslim visitors. It was almost impossible to find anything Muslim related with a group in Portugal, so I had to go find the Muslim heritage in Silves on my own. Obviously, this can’t always happen, but giving you a lot of suggestions to work with!
Alcohol free activities are always ALWAYS a bonus. Some brands/tours will add the alcohol for other people and yes I know I have the choice not to drink, but I don’t want to be surrounded by the smells and the tipsy people. It’s just not fun for us.
Consider prayer times
If you are doing a whole day of activities and you are hosting Muslims then please consider the prayer times. Don’t make assumptions that everyone will pray or won’t pray. Just ask whoever you are hosting if they want to stop for prayer at any point and what arrangements they have. It will make the customers feel really good. It’s not just the timing, providing a space is also important. It doesn’t have to be very special, just an empty room, corner or a quiet spot in nature depending on where you are.
Add suitable bathroom facilities
If you really want to impress your Muslim customers, have suitable bathroom facilities, where they can actually use the water inside the toilet like having bidet, water spray hose or even a watering can along with toilet paper of course. The happiness I feel when I see any of those things provided in a bathroom is unreal and it’s not very common outside of the Middle East sadly.
Offer halal food options
Halal food is a tricky thing. Some Muslims can only eat blessed meat that has been killed a certain way, I am one of those Muslims. On the other hand, there is a number of Muslims that don’t mind how the meat is killed as long as there is no pork. I must tell you that the first group of halal-only meat is bigger in numbers than the second one.
I only eat halal-meat or just stick to vegetarian or sea food options, so to me I usually find food in most places I travel to. However, some Muslims, can’t go for longer than a weekend without eating meat and if you want to attract those travellers, which tend to be husbands actually, then you might want to provide halal meat as part of your offerings or very comprehensive and delicious vegetarian options. The food is one of the main things travellers will mention to their friends.
Please don’t label your menu is halal if you are only serving sea food and vegetables. This is just silly. We know that vegetable are halal…… This label is reserved for meat.
If you use halal meats then please don’t cook it in alcohol because that completely defeats the purpose. I don’t want to hear the argument of “but alcohol burns off and blah” I just won’t eat it if it contains alcohol even if the meat is halal. Please and thank you.
Additionally, if you offer food tours and add a halal option, I will guarantee you that you will be more appealing to Muslim customers who only eat halal meat. I see a huge amount of food tours, but they are usually made up of non-halal meats and alcohol, which makes me feel sad that I missing out. Even finding vegetarian food tours is difficult.
Give a range of affordable prices
Once upon time, the rich people were the only ones who were able to travel, but that changed years ago. With the rise of budget airlines and the deals, travelling for less has been a thing many has started doing especially the younger generation. It really annoys me when all the offers geared towards Muslims are all about luxury! Offering a range of affordable price can be very good for business.
Represent Muslims visibly in your marketing campaigns
If you want to tap into that Muslim money, then use Muslims in your marketing campaigns. Honestly, visual representation is the best. If you only talk about this and rarely apply it then what is the point? Muslims won’t realise they are welcome into your world/brand and it will make it difficult for them to want to be your consumer. Hire a range of Muslims that can deliver this message and please consider the ethnic diversity of Muslims and their budget ranges.
Fun fact: when you are marketing something for Muslims, you don’t always call it a “halal” holiday. It’s not food. It’s an experience. Muslim friendly will suffice.
If you are struggling for Muslims to work with, feel free to work with me, take a look at these 10 Muslim influencers or better do some more research of your own for someone who matches your brand values and budget.
Educate yourself and appreciate Muslim cultures
I know most brands get excited about Muslim travellers for the money and the revenue that they will bring, but take a step further and actually educate yourself about Islam and Muslims, so you can have a deeper connection with them on a spiritual and cultural level. Learn about the main Islamic holidays, events and stories and that will lead you to understanding your future customer.
Newsflash: don’t get your information about Muslims from news channels. They have their own narratives. You can learn about real Muslims by interacting with them in person and travelling in Muslim countries with an open mind.
Please keep in mind that this post presents a specific view and that might not be the case for every Muslim out there. Islam spreads all over the world and local traditions affect the Islamic practice of people, so be open to change.