Is this Halal? Germany ill-prepared for growth in Muslim tourism

Halal tourism, catering to Muslim travelers who observe the rules of Islam, is the fastest-growing segment of the global tourism market. Germany could be a top destination for these travelers, but it’s so far slow to adapt.
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Tourists welcome.
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Muslim tourism is booming. Global revenue is projected to reach $274 billion by 2023, up from $177 billion in 2017, according to a study by Thomson Reuters and consultancy Dinar Standard.

Research commissioned by the ITB Berlin, the world’s biggest tourism trade fair, projects that the number of Muslim tourists will rise to 158 million in 2020, six times as many as in 2000. Their share of the global tourism market is likely to exceed 10 percent from next year, said CrescentRating, which conducted the study for ITB.

“It’s a real challenge for the tourism industry,” said Martin Buck, director of the ITB. “Services that have to date been confined to a small number of well-heeled guests in just a few German towns like Düsseldorf, Bad Godesberg or Munich will soon become a standard component of mass tourism."

They have a long way to go. At present, only a few German hotels can accommodate Muslims' needs. They include the Breidenbacher Hof hotel in Düsseldorf, which offers an arrow showing the direction of Mecca, a Quran and a prayer rug. It also removes alcoholic drinks from the minibar and offers halal food for Muslim guests.

Germany came second behind the United Arab Emirates on a list of most desirable holiday destinations for Muslim tourists in a survey by market research firm IPK International.

But in terms of services provided for Muslim tourists, Germany only ranks in 35th place according to an international comparison by CrescentRating, which specializes in halal tourism research. It also came only eighth among non-Muslims' preferred holiday destinations, behind Singapore, Britain and Japan.

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Striking pork from the menu isn't enough to meet the needs of religious Muslims. Many devout tourists require separate bathing or wellness facilities for men and women, and adjusted dining times during the Ramadan fasting month.

“Prayer is also a central point for travelers,” CrescentRating researcher Fazal Bahardeen said. With a majority of Muslims observing the requirement to pray five times a day, hotels would be smart to have prayer rooms and washing facilities available.

The Muslim travel market is changing fast. It used to be dominated by tourists from the rich Gulf states who would engage travel agents to find airlines and hotels that catered to their needs. But now there’s a financially strong middle class emerging across southeast Asia, led by Indonesia and Malaysia, which are home to 60 percent of all Muslims, compared with Arab countries' 20 percent.

Halal travelers' habits differ considerably from those of Western tourists. While 46 percent of German vacationers head to the beach, the percentage is only half that big among Muslims. Instead, they’re more keen on cities, with more than a third preferring urban trips, compared with 22 percent for Western Europeans.

They also have different priorities in cities. “Sightseeing — which comes top among other travelers — or visiting museums or eating well is less important for this group,” wrote market researchers at IPK International. Halal tourists are more interested in shopping and nature.

Buck attributes this less to religious habits than to the young age of many halal tourists. The high birth rates in Asia means that the average age of Muslim tourists is 24, younger than other groups of tourists. “Photo trophies are in high demand among this target group,” said Buck. “Museum visits not so much.”

Some Western countries are struggling to adapt. In 2016 authorities in several French towns banned burkinis, modest swimsuits that cover the body and head, from beaches amid fears of Islamic extremism.

But many other countries are investing heavily in this booming market, especially Turkey, which has 28 designated halal beach resorts.

“Hoteliers in London, Paris, Barcelona or Granada are showing an interest in Muslim guests and catering to their wishes in parts of their hotels,” said Ufuk Secgin, co-founder of online booking platform Halalbooking.com, which was launched in London five years ago. The site lists 1,150 hotels, ski resorts and private villas in 45 countries that provide halal services.

Halalbooking.com had 300,000 customers from 84 countries last year. Intriguingly, the biggest proportion of bookings — 24 percent — came from Germany, which is home to about 4.5 million Muslims.

Christoph Schlautmann covers logistics for Handelsblatt. To contact the author: [email protected]