Islamic Tourism has potential to drive the ASEAN region’s tourism recovery beyond COVID-19 with adequate marketing and promotions, communications, and new norm travel framework preparations in place by destinations in the region.
In a Muslim-Friendly Malaysia webinar organised on 29 July 2021 by Islamic Tourism Centre (ITC) and CrescentRating, ITC Director-General, Dato’ Dr. Mohmed Razip Haji Hasan said: “Islamic Tourism and Muslim-Friendly Tourism and Hospitality may be the solution to lead the way forward for tourism recovery and sustainability in ASEAN.”
He added: “When we close in on the regional scene in ASEAN, which accounts for a Muslim population between 200 and 300 million, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei being home to the three largest proportions of Muslim population here, it is an equally sizeable market too. It is predicted that with short haul flights and common borders reopening, Muslim travellers may provide a balance to the region’s travel revival when travel formalities are made easier.”
Emphasising the topic of destination management and making Malaysia as a source of reference for Muslim-friendly tourist destination, the webinar saw more than 100 participants from ASEAN countries, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and Australia attending the event.
“ITC recognises the growing interest towards the Muslim travel market among ASEAN countries. We, too, observe that the importance of Islamic tourism is beginning to be appreciated by many national tourism organisations around the world, and especially in ASEAN – from the promotional websites such as those of Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong which offer guides to halal dining, to the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s launch of its app to cater to Muslim tourists,” said Dato’ Dr. Mohmed Razip.
“To cater to this phenomenon, more avenues such as knowledge-sharing sessions is the way forward, to foster greater understanding and establish better cooperation with our fellow industry players out there with regards to Muslim-friendly tourism and hospitality (MFTH),” he added.
The Muslim travel market is on the rise, and one that is sought after, owing to the many opportunities and potentials for tourism industry players globally to leverage and tap into. For instance, it has been reported by Aljazeera that Saudi tourists, which is a key component of the said segment, spent US$22 billion travelling abroad in 2019. Moreover, given its relatively young population, many Saudis go abroad in search of holiday options. Thus, it is not surprising to see that many destinations are gearing up to capture this Muslim travel market.
“Traditionally, Islamic tourism was regarded as religious travel for Hajj and Umrah. And generally, Muslim travellers are noted for two key trends, namely, a greater tendency to have longer stays and a higher propensity to spend more. Where their faith-based needs are concerned, two vital essentials come to mind, that is the availability of Halal food and provision of prayer facilities,” explained Dato’ Dr. Mohmed Razip.
But those sentiments have evolved. Dato’ Dr. Mohmed Razip informed the audience: “The Islamic Tourism parameter has now expanded to include the increasing number of Muslims who travel for business, wellness, leisure, luxury, sports and recreation, and other niche and special interests. Now, the landscape for Muslim travel has changed significantly as Muslim travellers demand for more tourism facilities and services that are in compliance with Shariah requirement. That is anticipated to evolve further after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended.”
He explained that Islamic Tourism was now defined as an activity, event, experience, or indulgence, undertaken in a state of travel that is Islamically compliant, and covered such interests as history, arts, culture, heritage, way of life, economy, health, education, and other human interests.
“Thus, at ITC, being a recognised Centre of Excellence for Islamic Tourism, we engage in research and training, besides standards and certifications, to provide industry players the necessary equipment of skills and knowledge in tapping into the Muslim travel market.”
He also noted: “Islamic Tourism Centre (ITC) is ever steadfast in its commitment towards industry preparedness come the re-opening of borders when tourism and travel is allowed once again. Thus, I hope this seminar wil serve as an insightful resource for our industry players in Southeast Asia who are looking to tap into the Muslim tourist market.”
Sharing the online stage with him at the webinar was Mr. Zulkifly Md. Said, Director-General of Tourism Malaysia, who shared about the importance of destination management in promoting Malaysia in the region. He spoke about utilising digital technology and e-marketing tools for destination promotions and communications, as well as Malaysia’s strategy in developing and promoting new niche products.
Aside from marketing and promotions, destinations also needed to be travel-ready to welcome tourists to the region, said Mr. Fazal Bahardeen, Chief Executive Officer of CrescentRating. He emphasised the importance of a destination’s ability to prevent, detect, and control the virus — and communicate that to the market to provide travel assurance when borders are open again.
One of the key aspects to consider in reopening travel was a comprehensive framework to facilitate the end-to-end travel experience. According to Mr. Haji Akil Yusof, the former Deputy President of the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA), such a framework required establishing travel SOPs, vaccination and quarantine requirements, and the consideration of COVID-19 insurance coverage.
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