THE presence of top officials and business representatives from Japan, Luxembourg, South Korea and the UK, to name a few, at the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) 2014 in Dubai (Oct 28-30) underlined the growing clout of the Muslim consumer.
South Korea was one of the many non-Muslim countries that looked eager to benefit from the Islamic economic industry. Gangwon province of South Korea is scheduled to host a roundtable on Islamic finance next year.
In addition, Japan and Spain will also host roundtable events next year to discuss, among other things, halal food production and Muslim-friendly tourism.
MasterCard and CrescentRating, a Singapore-based company focused on halal tourism, inked a deal on Oct 29 at the WIEF to develop the Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) to be released for the first time in January. The index, to be updated every three months, will include 100 destinations worldwide.
“This collaboration underscores our commitment to cater to the specific needs of Muslim travelers who are looking to travel with peace of mind,” said Safdar Khan, group head of MasterCard Islamic payments for Southeast Asia.
Tourism to Japan is being heavily promoted in mainly-Muslim Southeast Asia, where visa requirements were relaxed in 2013 for Malaysia and Thailand. Indonesia – the largest Muslim-majority country in the world – is slated to follow shortly.
According to the Japanese Tourist Office, the number of Indonesians visiting the archipelago in 2013 was up 37% on the previous year, while 21% more Malaysians came.
Prayer rooms, hijabs made from local silk, and even halal-certified whale meat are appearing in Japan as tourism bosses wake up to the demand from Muslim travellers.
For a largely homogeneous country with only around 100,000 practising Muslims, that means groping its way through unfamiliar customs as it looks to tap a growing market to help it double the number of overseas visitors by 2020.
“Muslim travellers still do not feel comfortable here,” Datuk Ibrahim Haji Ahmad Badawi, head of Malaysian food company Brahim’s said at a recent seminar on halal tourism in Tokyo. “The government seems to have understood this.”
Last year, seminars like this one were held in 20 different regions in Japan, where hoteliers and restaurateurs were invited to learn how to cater to Muslims. The Osaka Chamber of Commerce handed out 5,000 leaflets as a guide to what can and cannot be eaten.
Brahim’s as a company has already signed a deal with All Nippon Airways (ANA), one of Japan’s biggest carriers, to supply inflight halal meals, Badawi said. A number of large hotels have also approached him looking for advice on how they can cater to Muslim guests.
Slowly, various regions across Japan are catching on. Major airports have dedicated prayer rooms, and tourists looking for the perfect present can pick up hijabs made from Japanese silk, and food and other products certified halal, as they pass through Kansai International Airport, near Osaka, a recent television report showed.
Longer term visitors are also being catered for, with 19 universities offering halal menus in their cafeterias in a bid to boost the number of Muslim students.
Customers looking for an authentic – but halal – Japanese dish already have a choice in Tokyo, including a yakiniku barbecue restaurant run by Roger Bernard Diaz, a Sri Lankan Catholic. Diaz says around half of his customers now are Muslims.
Russia’s largest hotel chain, Aerostar Hotel, recently launched “halal service” in apparent response to growing demand for Muslim-friendly tourism. Through this program, the hotel is committed to providing pork-free meals, allocating praying rooms and giving out copies of Quran to Muslim guests.
At the WIEF in Dubai, Halal Industry Development Corporation (HDC) signed an MoU with Western Cape Fine Food Initiative (WCFFI) to collaborate closely in exchanging technical and expert assistance.
Under the MoU, HDC will help the South Africa on guidelines for Halal standards, certification and training as well as promoting bilateral Halal trade and investment between Malaysia and South Africa.
South East Asia
Fazal Bahardeen, founder and CEO of CrescentRating, is also scheduled to deliver a seminar in Indonesia later this month on how to reach Muslim consumers. He will be speaking at Startup Asia Jakarta 2014 (Nov 26-27). Bahardeen is also founder of HalalTrip, a travel booking platform.
A report by Thomson Reuters revealed that the global outbound travel spending of Muslim tourists reached $137 billion in 2012 (not including Hajj and Umrah) or 12.5 percent of the nearly $1.1 trillion travel spending worldwide.
At the WIEF, Malaysia’s Binary University also inked an MoU with UAE’s Emirates Institutes of Banking and Financial Studies to provide students and working professionals the opportunity to acquire industry-specific skills and to empower youth to become successful entrepreneurs.
– AFP/Jakarta Post/Tech In Asia/The Malaysian Reserve