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Why adjusting your hotel facilities to Muslim travellers pays back quickly
Tuesday, 12th March 2013
Source : Roland Wildberg ~ Exclusive from ITB Berlin 2013

Tourists in Muslim countries are a relatively neglected target audience, which has expanded considerably and grown in wealth.

Their travel spending is far higher than that of the world’s most travelled nations. Worldwide however, there is hardly any focus on fulfilling Muslim tourists’ special needs.

Reem El Shafaki is Senior Associate at Dinar Standard, a New York based research and advisory firm specializing in the global Muslim market. She and her team just released Global Muslim Lifestyle Tourism Market 2012: Landscape & Consumer Needs Study, which it produced jointly with Crescent rating agency.

In a remarkebly competent manner El Shafaki presented parts of the study to hoteliers, airlines and destination managers at ITB Berlin 2013, in an attempt to provide them with valuable insights into the latest global Muslim lifestyle trends.

4Hoteliers Images Reem El Shafaki, senior advisor Dinar Standard

El Shafaki's estimates that Muslim travel is a current 126 billion dollar market – larger than the largest travel market, USA, and twice as large as China’s. This figure is supposed to rise to 196 billion, by 2020.

Tourism industry reacted not yet in proportion to demand

It's not that all Muslim travellers are looking for Islam-conform products and lifestyle options when they do travel. However, many do and the tourist industry has started to react - albeit not at all in proportion to existing demand.

Incoming tour operators are already beginning to adjust to this – offering Ramadan lounges, Halal food, women’s only spas, etc. "But there is still a long way to go in this sector," El Shafaki told her audience.

According to the Muslim markets expert, the travel requirements of religious Muslims can be divided into 'needs', 'good to have' and 'nice to have' options.

Religious Muslim travellers need to have, for example, easy access to Halal food and prayer space. On the other hand, washing facilities at prayer times, toilet bidets as well as the availability of pre-dawn meals during the month of Ramadan, are facilities that religious Muslims would find good to have, but for which conforming alternatives could be arranged.

Things Muslim travellers do not desparetely need

Finally, religious Muslims would find that alcohol- and gambling-free accommodations as well as separate recreation areas for women – to name but a few of the many preferences - would be nice to have. However, they do not expect this from caterers in non-Muslim countries.

But neither is Islamic conformity to be expected in hotels in predominantly Muslim countries. Islamic Traveller magazine’s reported only 20% of all hotels in Malaysia as being "Islamic compliant".

Number one item of importance for Muslim travellers is undisputed the availably of Halal food – followed by price and a Muslim friendly experience.

Muslim travellers are also mobile. 31% purchase their travel directly through hotel or airline websites. The rest purchase through a local travel agent, followed by third-party, online providers.

Positive influence on hotels' F&B revenues

As many Muslim travellers generally due to their prayer necesseties and particularly during Ramadan tend to take their meals directly in their hotels, targeting them will have a significantly positive effect on F&B revenues, Reem El Shafaki explained.

She concluded her address by giving hoteliers several recommendations to prepare themselves for incoming Muslim tourists.

Hoteliers first need to see if making any changes at all would be relevant to their business and then ask themselves whether they will have enough Muslim guests to make pertinent changes.

This should then be followed by the needs and preference considerations of the guests which would include the need for Halal foods and preference for separate ladies facilities.

Need for communications strategy tailored for Muslims

Once a hotel has determined its interest in capitalizing in on the Muslim tourist market, it needs to consider a customized strategy which involves a sound communications strategy tailored for Muslims.

Muslim media outlets, for example, are ideal tools for advertising, as are ads with holiday specials. The Australian state of Queensland, for example, has invested heavily in promoting the region as a Ramadan friendly destination.

Hoteliers can then go on to create a marketing strategy that would offer unique experiences, beyond the requirements, which would fulfill other needs and values important to Muslim travelers.

This is strictly an exclusive feature, reprints of this article in any shape or form without prior written approval from 4Hoteliers.com is not permitted.

Roland Wildberg is Travel Writer and Correspondent based in Berlin, Germany. He started as an Editor for the National daily 'Die Welt' (tourism section), later on switched to a freelanced career and nowadays mainly publishes on the Web. Observing the hospitality industry always has fascinated him as it looks like the perfect combination of sleeping and writing – work-live-balance as its best.

Roland also heads the annual
4Hoteliers ITB Berlin news micro-site journalist and video/photo teams for the 5th consecutive years.

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