The idea for the alliance was first hatched at a meeting in Jakarta in September 2015, said Sofyan. Founding members are from Southeast Asian neighbours Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.
This was followed by a second meeting at the recently-concluded trade fair Malaysia International Halal Showcase (MIHAS) in Kuala Lumpur.
There are currently around 40 members signed up from Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand, according to Sofyan.AWARENESS
HTA’s goal in its current stage of development involves generating awareness of the alliance. “We’re now in the stage of building up the database of travel packages and building up membership,” said Sofyan.
He stressed two key aspects needed for the HTA to move forward on a firm footing. The first is for members to come to a common understanding of the features and standards that make up family- and Muslim-friendly travel, and the second is to build a system and workflow for due diligence to run proper background checks on each new potential member, which must be a licensed business.
Sofyan explained that instead of following a halal hospitality rating system such as CrescentRating or Salam Standard, HTA will take the “halalbooking.com approach” to describe and define the key Muslim-friendly features of travel packages, such as dry and family-friendly hotels and attractions, halal-certified restaurants, and provision of prayer facilities.
“The level of practice of halal is different from country to country and even within one country. We’re not trying to unify standards. We’re trying to sell. We’ll let the consumer judge what they want to buy,” said Sofyan.NATIONAL-LEVEL INDUSTRY BODIES
In order to gain the support of national tourism organisations (NTOs) to increase visibility for the industry, HTA recommends the establishment of country-level halal travel organisations that can represent the interests of the particular country’s Muslim-friendly travel sector players.
Indonesia has a handful of industry bodies: Halal Travel Indonesia Association (Perkumpulan Pariwisata Halal Indonesia, PPHI), Indonesian Islamic Travel Communication Forum (IITCF), Komunitas Tour Leader Muslim, and Halal Travel Konsorsium (HTK).
According to Sofyan, HTK has a membership of 589 members offering around 1,400 travel packages, and is currently only domestic-focused.
The alliance is working to transfer all travel packages offered by these industry bodies onto its platform. Sofyan explained that it will take a bit of time to translate the packages into English, which is the HTA’s working language.
Thai travel agent Lukman Nani, a HTA member, told Salaam Gateway that a group of travel agencies in Thailand are in the process of setting up a halal tourism association that aims to be licensed by the country’s authorities by the end of this year. “After the association is established it will be linked to the Halal Travel Alliance,” said Nani.
“For us in Thailand the cake is very big. We are more than happy to get more awareness of the halal business and we encourage more and more businesses to be involved,” added Nani.MEMBERSHIP DRIVE
On its membership drive, Sofyan’s first priority is the biggest source market for Muslim tourists outside of Southeast Asia – the Middle East, led by high-spending Saudi Arabia. According to him, he has been actively meeting potential Saudi and Middle East-based HTA members at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai that runs until April 27.
Indonesia estimates its number of Muslim tourists was 2.5 million in 2016 and is targeting 3 million this year. Tourists from the Middle East alone comprised around 10 percent, or 240,000, last year, up from 180,000 in 2015. Indonesia’s tourism ministry wants to attract up to 400,000 visitors from the Middle East this year, and believes that king Salman’s state visit to the archipelago in March will help pave the way for more Saudi arrivals.
“From Indonesia’s perspective our target markets are 16 countries including GCC states led by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar; Asian countries especially Malaysia, Singapore, China, and India; Australia; then Europe led by Russia, Germany, United Kingdom, and France.”
Sofyan expects that member agencies will take their own initiative to market the HTA to attract more members. However, in the initial stage, Indonesian representatives are facilitating meetings for the membership drive such as the one at MIHAS in early April, and at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.Salaam Gateway:
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