Developing Muslim-friendly tourist industry to ensure sustainability

JAKARTA: According to Global Islamic Economy Indicator Report 2020, the spending of Muslims on travel increased by 2.7 per cent in 2019 from $189 billion to $194 billion. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar ranked as the top three countries by spending. However, due to the devastating impact of the Covid-19 crisis, Muslim consumer spending on travel is expected to fall by 70 per cent to $58 billion in 2020.

The UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimated that the industry lost a total of $320 billion in just five months – between January and May 2020. The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has forecast $2.2 trillion in losses for the industry in 2020.

While the entire world is expecting Covid-19 vaccines as the powerful solution, many countries have started strategic preparations for their tourist industry to recover, Muslim-friendly tourism included.

In general, Muslim-friendly tourism is not different from halal tourism, Islamic tourism or sharia tourism. However, in some countries, tourism players prefer the term “Muslim-friendly” instead of the rest. Muslim-friendly tourism is defined as a type of tourism that adheres to the values of Islam. In Muslim-friendly hospitality, it is suggested that all product development and marketing efforts are designed for and directed at Muslims.

Muslim-friendly hospitality services such as airlines, hotels and food services are the new fast developing tourism products in the Muslim-friendly tourist industry.

If Indonesia is also interested in developing Muslim-friendly tourism, among the compulsory requirements to fulfil is developing the national framework. This is because that in reality, there have been many consumer complaints related to hospitality services. These includes misleading advertisements, fraud holiday packages, unfair contract terms, non-disclosure of information, low quality and inefficient services etc.

It is thus very important to examine these issues from consumer perspectives to ensure that Muslim-friendly hospitality services are consumer-friendly services and free from such problems. In doing so it is necessary to ensure consumers are adequately protected by legal and administrative regulations.

In 2012, my team and I studied the Muslim-friendly tourism framework in Malaysia. It was found that in order to ensure sustainability of Muslim-friendly tourism, several issues needed to be addressed – the need for legal and administrative framework related to Muslim-friendly hospitality services generally; the efficacy of management and administration of laws related to hospitality services; and legal protections with regard to the involvement of tourist industries in Muslim-friendly tourism and hospitality to ensure their sustainability and the ability to compete with multinational companies.

We believe that tourism continues to assume a key role in the Indonesian economy to propel the country into a high-income nation by the year 2045. In Asia Pacific, Indonesia was ranked as the 10th most-visited nation in the UNWTO’s Tourism Highlights 2019 Edition with 15.5 million international tourist arrivals in 2019. Muslim travellers made up around 20 per cent of the total inbound tourists to Indonesia every year. In 2018, the country drew around three million Muslim travellers, contributing $3.9 billion to the economy.

Muslim-friendly hospitality and tourism services is a high-yield segment that has the potential to develop and contribute toward Indonesia’s growth.

The availability of halal food, existence of mosques and musholla (prayer room) in public places, tax-free shopping zones and a Muslim-friendly atmosphere is not enough to sustain the growth and development of Muslim-friendly hospitality services in Indonesia. In the long run it has to be a highly regulated industry that is able to set a global standard.

Although it is almost impossible to have a fool-proof system, a set of laws, regulations and administrative mechanisms need to be developed to ensure its growth and sustainability. For example, a proper definition and terminology that surrounds the industry is very much needed to avoid misconceptions and misunderstandings among consumers.

To further support the industry and to avoid consumer fraud, it is highly perceived that facilities and services commonly associated with the industry, such as dedicated zones for entertainment and wellness, must be properly registered and regulated.

It should be a requirement that a special training programme be designed for e-Muslim tourist guides. Similarly, every health and wellness spa claiming to be Muslim-friendly should be legally registered and certified by the relevant authority.

© Asia News Network