By Rushdi Siddiqui, Global Head Of Islamic Finance at Thomson Reuters
The “Muslim travellers” is an important segment in the travel industry, however, not many hotel chains or destinations haven taken a serious look at their needs. So, many travellers have to manage their requirements while travelling or stick to familiar holiday destinations.
Now the media is full of reports on Muslim Travel market, as there are a host of destinations, hotel chains, tour operators etc., all targeting the billions of dollars of these travellers.
One company stands out for driving this change of attitude by the global travel industry. Crescentrating, the Singapore startup, coined the term “Halal friendly travel” back in 2008, and launched a dedicated rating system to rate travel services and a travel portal. In hindsight, a bold move seen as a pivotal event in facilitating the development of the ignored Muslim consumer segment.
After the Halal food industry and the Islamic banking industry, the rise of the Muslim consumer market is having an impact on the global travel industry.
Meet the founder/CEO of Crescentrating, Fazal Bahardeen, commenting on the rise of Muslim consumer dollars and implications to global travel industry.
What was your motivation and objective to start this venture?
Simple, we wanted to make it easier for Muslims to explore any part of the world with peace of mind. This meant that the travel industry needed to take into account their particular needs. For this to happen we had to bring awareness of the size of the opportunity to the industry, and, concurrently, give Muslim travellers needs based information and trip planning tools. Thus, launched travel site www.crescentrating.com. This allowed both the service providers to highlight their services catering to this segment as well as let travelers make travel choices based on the services provided.
From a social perspective, the ability for Muslims, as ‘ambassadors,’ to travel to many destinations will bring the much needed understanding and two-way communication between communities and Muslims.
To better equip the Muslim travellers, we also launched our annual ranking of holiday destinations and airports. This year we also released a score out of 10 for 50 destinations on Halal friendly holiday destinations to better assist Muslim travelers in planning trips.
Do you think the travel industry understood the importance of Muslim segment?
More destinations have now realised the purchasing power of Muslim consumers. In 2012, Muslim travellers spent more than $130 billion, or about 13 per cent of global travel expenditure. By 2020, this will grow to be a $200 billion market, based on the world’s first comprehensive study on this segment, ‘Muslim Lifestyle Travel Market Study,’ co-authored study by Crescentrating and DinarStandard in 2012. Around 70 per cent of travel expenditure from these travellers in 2012 came 15 outbound markets; Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE, Indonesia, Kuwait, Turkey, Nigeria, Malaysia, Germany, Qatar, Russia, Egypt, Lebanon, France and UK.
Muslim segment has become increasingly important with the drop of European travellers, hence, many destinations are starting to include this segment in their planning. We have worked with a few of those destinations to help them understand the market and build capabilities.
The global landscape of the travel industry is changing fast with impact of Muslim and Chinese travellers taking the lead.
The Muslim majority countries remain the top destinations for this segment. In 2012, the top three destinations were Malaysia, Turkey and the UAE.
To attract Muslims, what is the most important requirement for travel services?
We developed our rating system for travel services and destinations based on the availability of Halal food, prayer facilities, water usage in washrooms, ability to cater during Ramadan, the level of non-Halal activities and privacy in the use of recreational facilities.
The single most important service is accessibility to Halal food for hotel guests, as majority of Muslims will not comprise when it comes to food! Thus, if Halal food availability not included in the plan, the hotel starts with a disadvantage.
What are your challenges and plans going forward?
In 2009, the biggest challenge was launching the rating service and the website, as a new concept, and, now, we have become the segment leader.
Furthermore, we are to scaling up the work, both in terms of bringing in new services and features to help Muslim travellers plan their trips as well as helping the industry understand and building capacities and capabilities. We are planning to raise a second round of funding in the next couple of months.
From a rating service point of view we plan to cover other services such as theme parks, cruises etc. We will also continue to expand our Halal friendly holiday destination score to cover more than 50 destinations.
As for our website, we have been continuously bringing in new features and services to help the Muslim (and all those interested) travellers. Last year we launched the world’s first Air Travel Prayer Times Calculator to get prayer times and direction for flights. The mobile application for this calculator will be launched soon. In the next few months we will also go multi-lingual with our website, starting with French and Arabic.
The writer is Global Head of Islamic Finance and OIC Countries for Thomson Reuters. Views expressed by the author are his own