When Saudi, Emirati and North African Muslims travel the world, what can hotels do to address their specific needs?
Plenty of stories are written about the legendary hospitality extended to visitors by people across the Muslim world. But what about the reverse scenario? With Muslim travellers estimated to be worth around $150bn a year to the international travel business, how can tour operators ensure they are providing the best possible service? Crescent Rating, a leading expert on Muslim travel and a partner of ITB Asia, says it is difficult to generalise – because the Muslim world is home to such a diverse range of cultures and communities. But there are minimum requirements applicable to all followers of the Qu’ran: “The primary needs of a Muslim traveller are Halal food and access to prayer facilities – required by every Muslim,” says Crescent Rating. “Other needs include Muslim-friendly accommodation facilities such as water-usage friendly washrooms and fasting facilities during Ramadan.”
FOOD AND PRAYER
If Halal food and drink are not available onsite, the hotel staff should be able to suggest nearby Halal restaurants. Equally, on the subject of prayer, it is not enough simply to supply mats and sufficient space. It is also important to provide information about prayer times, because of time zone differences, and the correct direction of prayer (Qibla). Muslim-friendly hotels do not need to reach the stringent codes of conduct as Shariah Hotels. But other considerations for hotels that are serious about winning Muslim travel dollars include having a decent dress code for staff. It’s also important that alcoholic drinks are not stored in the room’s refrigerators. By a similar token, the hotel’s bar facilities should be discretely positioned so as not to offend Muslim guests. Tiny details can also make a difference if you want to win repeat business. For example, Emiratis often go to bed late when on holiday and rise after breakfast times – so lunch and dinner are the main meals. Coffee is preferred boiled rather than filtered or percolated.
Of course, many of the world’s most exciting tour destinations are multicultural cities – so there is a decent range of Muslim-friendly hotels to choose from. Premium Europe website cites Muslim-friendly hotels in Paris, including Hotel Fouquet’s Barriere, The Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme, Hotel Lancaster, Shangri-La Hotel and Hotel Sezz. The latter has recognised the importance of keeping female Muslim guests happy by offering female housekeeping and room service staff on request. Female therapists are also available in the hotel’s spa. In London, Premium Europe recommends The Landmark, The Café Royal, Dukes Hotel, Haymarket Hotel and Corinthia Hotel. At Dukes, for example, Arabic TV channels are provided and bidets are available in rooms on request. Several of the above also have copies of the Qur’an.
While Muslim travellers can be found all year round, Ramadan is a particularly important
time of year. The 9th month of the Islamic Calendar, the exact timing of Ramadan changes each year, so this needs to be built into hotel planning. Next year it starts on May 27. The crucial thing about Ramadan is that it involves fasting during daylight hours. The morning meal taken before the beginning of the fasting period is called Suhour, and the meal taken at the end of the fasting period is called Iftar. At the time of Iftar, it can be a nice gesture to offer complimentary dates and water. Other services that can make guests feel at home during Ramadan include offering wake-up calls. If a hotel has a Halal-certified kitchen or restaurant, serving Iftar and Suhour is straightforward. If not, it could convert one of its kitchens to a Halal-assured kitchen during Ramadan. Alternatively, responsibility for these meals could be outsourced for the month. Failing this, it’s important to make sure that advice about nearby restaurants is available.
All of the above factors need to be balanced alongside the fact that most Muslims are seeking the same kinds of experiences as Western or Asia travellers, namely beautiful landscapes, stimulating cultural experiences and good value for money. However there is an additional demographic factor that needs to be considered, which is that 53% of Muslim travel takes place with families and is often multi-generational. So this love of family needs to be taken into account in terms of room availability, transport arrangements and in-hotel facilities.
A GROWTH MARKET
ITB Asia, the Leading Trade Show for the Asian Travel Market, has established a partnership with CrescentRating. As part of the alliance, CrescentRating will host a Halal In Travel – Asia Summit 2016 conference and workshops, sharing invaluable insights on how delegates can strengthen their position. According to findings from MasterCardCrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index 2016, the global Muslim travel market is projected to grow to $220bn by 2020.