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Abu-Dhabi looks to become leading halal travel destination

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Muslims are finding it easier to travel to holiday destinations abroad, amid a boom in the global halal tourism sector. This emerged at the first World Halal Travel Summit 2015, which concluded in Abu Dhabi last week. The summit brought together a myriad of role-players in the global halal tourism industry to engage, network and share ideas. Set in the context of a visual exhibition, it was also an opportunity for halal travel companies to promote their countries and their brands.  The summit itself was an opportunity to engage on what is considered as the fastest growing area of global tourism.  It is the largest gathering of halal travel buyers and sellers, with more than 200 international hospitality brands and in excess of 75 countries represented.

Exhibitors and delegates network at WHTS 2015
Exhibitors and delegates network at WHTS 2015

A relatively new concept, halal tourism is geared towards Muslims who want holidays in accordance with their Islamic beliefs and practices. This means seeking out hotels or resorts that do not serve alcohol or pork and have separate swimming pools and spa facilities for men and women. But halal tourism companies are taking this one step further, by creating travel packages that includes cultural tours of countries rich in Islamic heritage.

A model of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque at the WHTS exhibition
A model of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque at the WHTS exhibition
An emirate man displays a falcon, an integral part of desert life
An emirate man displays a falcon, an integral part of desert life

The summit was a vehicle to market Abu Dhabi to the global Muslim traveller. Currently, Turkey and Malaysia and Singapore are the leading countries in terms of halal tourism.  77% of travellers are from Muslim majority countries and the top countries in outbound travel spending are Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar.

According to Andy Buchanan, the founder of the World Halal Travel Summit, halal travel offers an unsurpassed new business opportunity for the international travel trade. He says this segment represents an urban, middle class and “travel hungry” demographic that seeks to travel without compromising on their religious ideals.

Growing tourism market

Speaking at a seminar on the halal travel market, Reem al Shafaki, a senior associate at DinarStandard, cited a recent report which estimates that the market size is worth 142 billion dollars. This is expected to increase to 220 billion dollars by 2020.

DinarStandard is a specialised market research and advisory firm focused on the emerging Islamic markets of halal and tayyab foods.  Al Shafaki looked at various aspects of halal tourism including the halal ecosystem, awareness and social impact through job creation. In terms of trends, there is now a shift towards the digital realm where bookings are done through specialised halal travel sites. is considered the world’s leading online travel agency specialising in halal bookings.

Elnur Seyidli, chairman of addresses a seminar at WHTS
Elnur Seyidli, chairman of addresses a seminar at WHTS

She also said there was an inclination towards ‘immersive travel’, where tourists get a feel of locals in the country. Another interesting concept is what is called ‘socially conscious travel’ where the travel experience has a positive impact on the locals. A brilliant example of this is Holiday Bosnia, which organises philanthropic tours to encourage participation in community development projects.  Founder Kamraan Siddiqui is delivering unique ‘Islamic tourism’ programmes for the more discerning Muslim traveller. He aims to revive the thousand year old traditions of the ‘classical Muslim traveller’.

Another country hoping to boost its tourist numbers is Iran, home to 19 UNESCO-registered sites. Iran will most likely see a flood of international tourists soon in light of a historical deal which paves the way for the lifting of sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.

Bijan Aghtaee from the Iran Tourism Development Corporation said the challenge now would be to ensure that Iran’s tourism facilities would be able to cope with the influx of tourists.

Some of the challenges facing the broader halal sector are raising finance and marketing to Muslims without alienating non-Muslims. Al Shafaki says halal tourism brands should promote services as “family friendly” so that it is inclusive of travellers of all faiths or backgrounds. The other challenge is to extend advertising to other spaces other than Muslim-specific media.

Positioning Abu-Dhabi

The Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA) is on a drive to expand the emirate’s tourism offerings outside the capital. The TCA aims to promote the heritage, culture and traditions of Abu Dhabi emirate worldwide.

“Abu Dhabi will be become a leading halal tourism destination as it’s an Arab Muslim country and there are many things designed by default. For example, halal food is easy to find. Our malls and entertainment parks all have prayer facilities. Many things are in place and there’s not much to develop except for us to focus on special products,” said Samara Nouri from the TCA.

Samara Nouri
Samara Nouri from the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Cultural Authority

Nouri believes halal tourism should not be looked at through a religious lens, but rather as a family-centred means of travelling which appeals to everyone.

“It’s really interesting to see the non-Muslim clientele and a lot of people from different backgrounds are interested in halal travel. Many non-Muslim families prefer holidays where there is no alcohol and it is a safer for the kids,” said Nouri.

Babar Saeed, a managing partner at Oryx International Tourism based in Abu-Dhabi, said there has been an interest in the emirate as it reflects the values and modesty of Muslim travellers.

“We provide complete destination management services from the airport, to ensuring they have a hotel in accordance with Islamic principles, to halal food and separate beaches or swimming areas. It’s really about family orientated tourism.”

Babar Saeed and marketing consultant Hiba Babar from Oryx International Tourism
Babar Saeed and marketing consultant Hiba Babar from Oryx International Tourism

The TCA is also hoping to tap into the South African tourism market, following a travel trade road-show in SA in September. According to TCA, South Africa has been steadily climbing the top performing markets ladder since TCA Abu Dhabi’s representative office opened in Johannesburg last February. The first seven months of 2015 have seen a 34% increase in guest arrivals to 13,442 generating 46,242 guest nights for an average length of stay of 3.44 nights.

“There’s a big community of Muslims in South Africa and being here in the Middle East close to Saudi Arabia would make Abu Dhabi attractive for many people. When South African Muslims travel for haj and umrah, they can combine it with a holiday [in Abu Dhabi],” said Nouri.

From the magnificence of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the exhilaration of Ferrari World and the entertainment district of Yas Island to the tranquillity of the Heritage Market, combined with top-class hotels, resorts and restaurants, Abu-Dhabi presents a unique tourist offering. The emirate strikes the balance between a modern, cosmopolitan city while still preserving its rich cultural and Islamic identity, says Nouri.

“Abu Dhabi is safe, authentic and modern. The combination of the old and the new makes it appealing to many travellers. And of course, people are very friendly.”

To learn more about Abu-Dhabi, visit

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