The UAE remains a popular destination for Muslim travellers from around the world due to its wealth of diverse offerings across different emirates. However, industry stakeholders say that more can be done to attract a greater number of travellers from the booming segment in the coming years.

Experts at the Arabian Travel Market (ATM 2018) said that halal tourism has evolved from being a very niche segment to one of the fastest growing tourism segments across the world. This growth, they noted, is a result of the rapid increase in Muslim travellers, who wish to travel to new locations with their families for vacations.

"Halal tourism is seen as a sensible way of tourism," said Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal, CEO of Shurooq. "Here in the UAE, we have not branded ourselves as a halal tourism destination, but we have been actively practising it since the 1980s. Sharjah positioned itself as a state with tourism venues, where travellers would be comfortable bringing their families. It has gone beyond what many people have in mind when they think of a halal destination."

"The opportunities in the halal segment today are magnificent," he added. "The number of travellers in this segment have been increasing year on year; and this presents us with an opportunity to promote ourselves even further as a halal tourism destination."

When it comes to destinations that are popular with Muslim travellers, online travel marketplace Wego's 'Mena Traveller Destination Leaderboards' disclosed that Egypt retained its first place ranking in the first quarter of 2018 as the most popular destination for travellers from across the Mena region; while Saudi Arabia retained its second place ranking. India firmly positioned itself in third position, followed by Turkey at number 4, while the UAE fell from the third position to fifth.

Despite the overall drop, experts at Wego note that Dubai remains a popular destination for Mena travellers. Bustling street markets, easy access to halal food, short flight durations and cultural familiarity are reasons why Turkey remains consistently popular as a destination with Mena travellers, the report found. Amman, Jordan, emerged as the biggest winner among Middle Eastern cities with a spike in visitors in 2018 possibly attributed to the launch of the new Jordan trail and other new tourism boosting initiatives.

"Owing to the recent rise in Muslim millennial travelers, leading global players seem to be jumping on to the lucrative halal tourism bandwagon," said Mamoun Hmedan, managing director at Wego Middle East and India.

"We have seen that in Europe, and Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, there has been a consistent focus on offering a variety of halal tourism options."

He added: "A recent study showed that total expenditure from Muslim millennial travellers alone could approximately surpass $100 billion by 2025. It would, therefore, be essential for travel brands to understand the psyche of this young, tech-savvy millennial, who is fond of exploring the globe, while still abiding by his/her religious convictions."

Similarly, Sociable Earth's recent survey on halal tourism found that hospitality vendors, especially those in non-Muslim countries, can do more to attract Muslim travellers. According to the survey, respondents said non-Muslim countries should increase their variety of halal food in hotels, list nearby mosques and halal restaurants, and offer private pool villas to attract more Muslim guests.

More than 78 per cent of respondents in the survey select their holiday destination as a family, with only 1.5 per cent leaving the decision solely to their children. Naming their number 1 priorities for a trip, access to halal food is the most important factor, scoring 39.5 per cent of the vote and proximity to mosques was also important, taking 32.8 per cent, while 22 per cent named family-friendly activities.

"These figures demonstrate a demand for family-focused, down-to-earth holidays, which offer value for money and essential home facilities. Across the Middle East, we see these preferences catered to in hotels of all star ratings. However, many international markets only have a small number of suitable properties. This presents many opportunities to develop bespoke accommodation and attractive options in line with local market needs," said Omar Ahmed, founder and CEO of Sociable Earth.

The survey also found that with almost 30 per cent of the vote, Dubai was the most aspirational holiday destination, followed by Turkey at 16 per cent, the Maldives at 12 per cent, Malaysia at 9 per cent and Mauritius at 6 per cent. Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the UK each polled 5.6 per cent, with the US at 5.5 per cent.

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