This holiday season, go for a Halal-themed tour package

NEW DELHI:On holiday with his wife last summer in Singapore, Atiq Khan would keep looking for Indian and Pakistani restaurants. “You could be sure they would serve Halal food there,” says the 32-year-old radio professional from Ahmedabad.

The tourism industry seems to have sensed a business opportunity in Khan’s quest. Latching on to the growing demand for Halal food by travellers, tour operators have started offering customisation of trips for Muslims.

Tour operators who deal in Halal-themed packages point out that the observant Muslim will typically avoid alcohol or going to areas where there could be nudity, such as certain beaches. Such a traveller will look for hotels that not only serve Halal food but also have separate swimming pools and spa facilities for men and women or ones that have separate prayer rooms or prayer mats in rooms.

Halal tourism, jargon for Muslim-friendly tourism, is fast emerging as a niche segment globally, and India has woken up to its potential. Global Muslim spending on outbound travel has increased 7.7 per cent to reach $140 billion in 2013, excluding Hajj and Umrah, and is expected to reach $238 billion by 2019, according to the State of the Global Islamic Economy 2014-15 report commissioned by Dubai Islamic Economy Development Centre and developed by Thomson Reuters in collaboration with DinarStandard.

As Gurdeep Sahni, president of the Outbound Tour Operators’ Association of India, says, “Halal tourism is not a new idea. Muslim travellers within and outside India have always chosen specific food. It is now that several tour operators have started offering Halal-themed packages to attract this segment and it is particularly popular in group tourism. We can say there is more awareness and, with disposable incomes going up, tourism is no longer considered a luxury, but a part of life.” As for the size of Halal tourism market in India, no industry figures are available for this niche segment.

Sahni says that, of the 18.6 million people who travelled out of India in 2013, the share of Halal-conscious tourists would be negligible and is, therefore, difficult to ascertain.

When it comes to inbound tourists, it stood at 5.6 million between January and September this year, clocking 4.6 per cent growth, compared to 4.8 million tourists in the same period last year. What’s more significant is that countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the UAE, Oman and Malaysia regularly feature in the list of top 15 countries in overall tourist arrivals. Latest statistics show that Bangladesh ranked first, with 15.79 per cent and 18.81 per cent share of foreign tourist arrivals in August and September, respectively. Malaysia accounted for 3.54 per cent and 4.72 per cent, respectively, in these two months. September arrivals saw Pakistan (1.61 per cent) and Afghanistan (1.27 per cent) feature in the top 15, while August had Oman (2.46 per cent) and the UAE (1.79 per cent) in the list.

Sarabjit Singh, vice-chairman of the Federation of Association in Indian Tourism and Hospitality, which has been formed by representatives from the top 10 national tourism industry associations, says tour operators have long been servicing Muslim clients from West Asia and other countries by customising their stay and food during their India visit. “Off late, there is more awareness and, as such, the demand is slowly picking up for such customised trips,” he adds.

Kerala has led the way in Halal tourism in India, thanks to its links with West Asia through expats and the state tourism department’s marketing initiatives to attract tourists from West Asia. The state’s tourism minister, A P Anil Kumar, has led roadshows in Saudi Arabia. According to tour operators in Kerala, in the last five years, the numbers of tourists from West Asian countries, especially Saudi Arabia, has nearly grown at an average rate of more than 50 per cent.

Taj Travels and Holidays, which specialises in Halal packages, says another emerging segment is medical tourism. “People from the UAE come as medical tourists and this has further added to the Halal tourism demand,” says an executive with Taj Travels, which has now started focusing on medical tourism.

Tourism booking website for the Halal-conscious traveler HalalBooking.com, which saw its sales triple in the first three quarters of 2015, says on its website, “Halal tourism is growing at six per cent per annum, faster than any other travel sector. Subsequently, the global Halal travel market is projected to be worth approximately $200 billion by 2020.”


GOING THE HALAL WAY

    • Halal means “ethical” and “permissible”. An observant Muslim would typically avoid alcohol or areas where there could be nudity, such as beaches; and would look for hotels that serve Halal food, have separate swimming and spa facilities for men and women and have separate prayer rooms or prayer mats in roo
    • Global Muslim spending on outbound travel touched $140 billion in 2013 (excluding Hajj and Umrah)
    • Global Muslim spending on outbound travel expected to reach $238 billion by 2019
    • Halal tourism is growing at six per cent per annum, faster than any other travel category
    • The global Halal travel market is projected to be about $200 billion by 2020
    • Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, UAE, Oman and Malaysia among the top 15 countries from where tourists arrive in India
    • Kerala has led the way in Halal tourism in India

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