How to reach the millennial dominated $140bn Halal tourism market.

110 million Muslims will travel in 2017 and 70% will make their travel decision online. But just where will the Gulf Arab spend his $9,920 travel budget in 2017? We caught up to Dr Irfan Ahmad, CEO and Founder, Irhal.com at the recent ITB Berlin Convention as he gave his presentation on this topic, asking firstly how the “Halal Tourism” market is evolving this year…

With President Trump’s threatened travel ban, the significance of Halal Tourism will become more important because countries in Europe and Asia will be actively trying to attract Muslim travellers who will be spending upwards of $150 billion in travel related expenses in 2017. Interesting times!

More and more Muslim travellers are buying online. How is this evolving? What are the key trends?

Credit card usage in the Middle East is rising. But more importantly, for many travellers from the GCC (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain), visa requirements are being relaxed. Both these factors are contributing to the increase in online travel purchases. If a visa is required, travellers prefer to go through a travel agency because they help with the paperwork. Now it is easy for someone to book a flight and a hotel online and a last minute decision to spend a weekend in a foreign country becomes possible.

You have developed some very useful apps for Muslim travellers. How do these work?

Muslim travellers, particularly Arab travellers were handicapped because there was very little Arabic travel content on the internet. We started in 2010 by creating a website with Arabic language city guides. Unlike anyone else, we also offered information on Halal restaurants, prayer timings and mosque locations for each of the 90 cities that are listed on our website. By 2014 we realised that our visitors preferred an offline solution while traveling. So we launched the Irhal mobile apps both for iOS and Android. We now have over 1.5 million unique users of our website and apps.

Irhal.com users prefer to visit non-Muslim countries because of what a destination offers in terms of culture, entertainment and nature. By providing Halal food, the destination will become more attractive. So, hotels and tourism boards should be highlighting this aspect of their offerings to attract more Muslim tourists.