PUTRAJAYA, MALAYSIA, 20 SEPTEMBER 2021: Islamic Tourism Centre (ITC) concluded the “Muslim-Friendly Tourism and Hospitality Forum” on 9 September, held in conjunction with the 17th Malaysia International Halal Showcase (MIHAS).
Chairman of ITC, Datuk Wira Dr. Noor Zari Hamat, who is also the Secretary-General of Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Malaysia (MOTAC), whose purview includes overseeing ITC and its fellow governmental departments and agencies, gave his opening remarks at the forum, touching on the opportunities created by Muslim-friendly Tourism, among others.
Kicking off with an overview of the Muslim travel market, Datuk Wira Dr. Noor Zari proceeded to present the opportunities for tourism destinations and organisations where the Halal economy is concerned, particularly beyond COVID-19. “We believe the Muslim travel market will continue to flourish beyond COVID-19 due to a pent-up demand for travel. Strategic actions need to be formulated such as to cater to this phenomenon,” he stated.
“Muslim tourists are just like any other tourists save that they possess certain niche requirements, easily summed up in these two phrases, Halal food and a place to pray. Moreover, being aware of COVID-19, more tourists will be prioritising values like health, cleanliness, safety and responsibility, in the future.”
“It is true that Muslim-friendliness advocates those values. In fact, MFTH is also a universal branding tool encompassing all walks of life whilst having regard for the faith-based needs of Muslim travellers. Thus, to incorporate MFTH and tap into the Muslim travel market would mean greater sustainability and inclusivity.”
“Muslim-friendly tourism products and services advocate a healthy diet (Halal food) and clean practices (ablution facilities). When businesses explore such opportunities in the Islamic economy, of which tourism and hospitality is a subset, they ride on the wave of inclusivity and sustainability whilst leveraging their businesses to stay in touch with current needs of consumers,” Datuk Wira Dr. Noor Zari added.
The panel of speakers at the forum come from a diverse set of industrial backgrounds, from hoteliers to tour guides, and even health and wellness to medical tourism.
Mr. Zakaria Ismail, representing the chain of hotels Attana Hotels & Resorts, shed more light on the brand’s recognitions, among them ITC’s Muslim-friendly Accommodation Recognition (MFAR) – Platinum category.
He opened: “From ITC, we were recognised as a Muslim-friendly hotel (via MFAR) since last year. We provide facilities a little different from other hotels. We add on more items in our rooms such as a copy of the translation of the Quran and a schedule for prayer times. In addition, all our amenities – body lotion, shower gel and shampoo – are Halal-certified to ensure the comfort and convenience of our guests in utilising them.”
“Moreover, we also have a musollah that can accommodate 100 people, one for each male and female guests. The Qiblat direction in the musollah, which is also provided in all our rooms, have been certified by the Mufti’s Office of the Federal Territories – to be audited and inspected every 2 years. The provision of bidets in all washrooms will also enable our Muslim guests to perform their ablution easily prior to prayers.”
“Another interesting feature which we offer in our services to Muslim guests is the Sertu process. This is the process of cleaning our utensils and crockery, as well as sanitation of rooms, in a process compliant with Shariah requirements. This is monitored by an in-house Shariah Compliance Executive regularly,” he elaborated.
“In terms of food and beverage, our restaurant is not just certified Halal but we also ensure all our food ingredients are obtained from Halal suppliers. We also provide separate swimming pools for children and adults whilst allocating a specific time for Muslimahs to use the pool, the latter also under the watch of female employees.”
“Our hotel premises are located near mosques. For instance, adjacent to our hotel in KL, Perdana Kuala Lumpur City Centre, is the Asy-Syakirin Mosque KLCC, a 5-minute walk away. At this mosque, congregants can conduct not just Friday prayers but also the Terawih during Ramadan,” Mr. Zakaria closed.
Meanwhile, Ms. Jane Rai, award-winning tour guide and ITC-certified Muslim-friendly Tour Guide (MFTG), shared her reflections on attaining the certification: “For me, the takeaway and practice from the training course is product knowledge. It has increased my knowledge, particularly, in itinerary planning. When we have Muslim guests, there are certain requirements such as their faith-based needs, now I know how to plan in a way that gives such guests the space to fulfill their faith-based needs.”
“When I look into accommodations, the hotels list comes in handy, specifically Shariah-compliant hotels, and their facilities provided such as prayer room, Halal food, mosques, eateries. I am now more mindful of these details where Muslim guests are concerned. This is indeed a powerful benefit in preparation of itineraries.”
“The course has also instilled greater confidence in social interactions owing to a background on the knowledge of the principles of Islamic travel. Matters such as Shariah-compliance knowledge and the Quranic explanation as to why Muslims travel, those elements have allowed me to have better conversations with both local and foreign Muslim tourists. Our mindfulness and confidence give clients more assurance in our daily dealings with customers,” she noted further.
“Another thing to note is that we are now able to expand our market from one focused on Europe and ASEAN to one more focused on the Muslim travel market. Even countries like Korea and Japan are moving in the direction of Muslim-friendly travel, and they are learning from us Malaysians via ITC. By looking into Muslim-friendly travel, I can now consider how to offer better tour products and services.”
Ms. Liz Othman, Founder of Teratak Spa, followed suit with her presentation on the untapped potentials of the Muslim-friendly spa concept. “Muslim tourists worldwide are exploring new destinations and authentic unique travel experience. The numbers of Muslim travellers are increasing. Muslim women do not just love to shop but also visiting spas. In fact, spas are expected to become a key trend in the Muslim travel market. With a new trend and consumer behaviour in the marketplace, as well as an untapped potential, Muslim-friendly spa concept is a huge opportunity for industry players in this segment.”
“Muslim-friendly spas can become a new business model. The reopening of spas with a new ‘Muslim-friendly’ branding is an advantage for businesses. The new concept and approach will assist industry players to rebound positively from the pandemic, having been closed for half a year now. By revising the target market, developing new marketing strategies, creating new spa services and products, new interior decoration and ambience – this rebirth will attract more leads and guest retention.”
Ms. Liz also added that the Muslim-friendly spa model can become a unique selling proposition since industry players can create personalised and customised spa services to cater to different needs and expectations. This will ensure the spa industry remains relevant and competitive in the market. “I must thank ITC for creating standards in Muslim-friendly spa to ensure industry players carry out the best values and practices along with the maintenance of standardisation of procedures and protocols where such spas are concerned.”
“This will help improve productivity and generate more sales that will help industry players recover at a faster pace. Consumers are now more conscious about safety and hygiene. Moreover, cleanliness is part and parcel of Islam, in addition to purity and respect. Consumers now look for such values and their application will help to elevate customers’ confidence and trust.”
Lastly, Mr. Mohd Daud Mohd Arif, CEO of Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) discussed the potentials and opportunities of Muslim-friendly medical tourism and hospitality. Mr. Mohd Daud, who took office in April 2021, said: “MHTC has been mandated to promote Malaysian healthcare internationally whilst facilitating and coordinating the development of the healthcare travel industry.”
“Malaysia’s healthcare travel industry has experienced tremendous growth, with such travellers coming from around the world especially within the region. In 2019, Malaysia attracted 1.2 million healthcare travellers, a good majority of them originating from Muslim-majority countries – Indonesia, Bangladesh, Yemen, Pakistan and Libya. This is very encouraging and we aspire to explore more opportunities to attract more Muslim healthcare travellers to strengthen our position as the leading global Halal hub.”
“Due to the high population of Muslims around the world today, there is a huge demand for Halal vaccines and such medical opportunities for this mass market. Malaysia is committed to meet this demand as we have a comprehensive Halal ecosystem besides being a trade centre for the mainstream Halal industry. This surely paves the way for us to venture into more market opportunities in the future, particularly the MENA and sub-Saharan African regions.”
“COVID-19 has also opened an opportunity for us to develop Halal vaccines, besides further accelerating the process. Notably, Malaysia’s pharmaceutical firm Pharmaniaga has plans in place to set up an integrated Halal vaccine manufacturing facility, set to be launched in 2023,” said Mr. Mohd Daud.
MIHAS 2021 ran from 9 to 12 September 2021, also on an online platform. The event was organised by the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE) and hosted by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI). Besides becoming the longest running Halal trade event worldwide, MIHAS 2021, themed “Empowering Halal, Tomorrow, Together”, aimed to catalyse the Halal economy owing to challenges faced amidst the COVID-19 pandemic whilst positioning Malaysia as a global Halal hub.
Filed in: Muslim Travellers