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Islamic tourism market to grow 11 pct by 2020 – 150m Muslims to spend $220 bln

DUBAI, UAE, Sept 23: A recent Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry analysis based on data from prominent global research agencies forecasts 11%growth in the global Islamic tourism market share by 2020 in the wake of a high demand for Islamic tourism.

According to MasterCard data, the global Islamic travel market was estimated to be worth $145 billion in 2014, as the number of Muslim travellers reached 108 million worldwide, which makes up 10% of total global tourism.This market share is projected to reach 11% by 2020, as the number of Muslim visitors reaches 150 million, and their expenditures grow to $200 billion.

This observation is supported by two major factors including the above average population growth in Muslim dominated countries and healthy economic growth of Muslim communities, located within emerging economies. Compared to 2012 market size of $130 billion, global Islamic travel has expanded by a cumulative 11.5% over the past 2 years; and is expected to keep growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.5% until 2020.

Salient features of Islamic travel The Islamic travel market concentrates on serving specific requirements of the Muslim traveller’s lifestyle, such as:Halal meals options, and halal-certified restaurants, family-friendly environments, religious practices facilities (mosques, prayer rooms at airports, direction signs to Qiblah in Makkah, etc.) gender related nuances (separate spas, gyms, and pools), tours and activities free of gambling, drinking and all other party-related activities, alcohol and pork free flights, Holy Qura’n copies made available on request, prayer time announcement during flights and broadcast of religious programmes on board flights.

Top destinations According to the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index (2015), UAE is ranked 24th globally, and 1st in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) category; while Malaysia followed closely with a global rank of 25. However, in terms of Islamic travel friendliness, Malaysia is ranked 1st under the global Muslim travel index (GMTI) based on criteria set by “Crescentrating”, a leading Islamic travel rating organisation based in Singapore.

UAE came 3rd according to the 2015 index. The key set of criteria behind the ratings in the below table includes the country’s suitability for family holidays, the type of available Muslim-travellerfriendly services and facilities, as well as guides and other marketing initiatives dedicated to promoting awareness on Islamic travel services and facilities. Top tourist sources An estimated 40% of outbound Islamic travel spending stems from 5 countries in the Middle East. Southeast Asia, on the other hand – with its populous countries Indonesia and Malaysia – leads by number of tourists.

It is worth noting that Russia, with expenditure worth $5.4bn during 2013, is considered the top Islamic traveller source, under non-OIC countries. Germany ranks second at $3.6bn, followed by the United Kingdom at $2.4bn, while France comes 4th with $2.3bn.

Latest trends and developments The recent boom in smartphones and tablets usage in Muslim countries and communities has opened a great door for applications (apps) development to support different aspects of the Islamic travel plan. For instance, a travel app called “HajjSalam” has been recently developed to run without internet connection and can provide guidance for every step of pilgrimage. “Hajj IPhone app” is also a new app geared towards Muslim pilgrims, as it allows tents to be geo-tagged for ease of finding later on after finishing the rituals.

Another interesting app for Muslim visitors was launched earlier in Ramadan by the Tourism Authority of Thailand with the purpose of helping Muslim visitors locate mosques, halal hotels and restaurants, malls with prayer rooms, and other facilities and services demanded by the Muslim traveller anywhere in the country. Some of the businesses that cater to the Islamic travel industry have identified a potential challenge related to marketing their brands.

Hotels and restaurants in particular are aware of the possibility of unintentionally pushing away potential non- Muslim tourists if they heavily emphasise that they are “Halal” on their entrance doors and websites; instead, some have decided to mitigate that risk by promoting their brand as “family-oriented”. Actually, the large overlap between Muslim-friendly travel and family-oriented travel means that businesses catering to either category could also, by default, serve the other as they have the right facilities and services in place. Thus, it is more about how they position their brand using the right advertising.

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