Islamic Lifestyle

‘Fully embrace the certainties of life as our faith teaches us’: Halal travel pioneer CrescentRating CEO on navigating COVID-19

Halal Trip, which is run by CrescentRating, on Mar 31 changed its tagline from "Get inspired | Go | Inspire Others" to "Stay inspired | Stay home | Stay connected", addressing our current global pandemic. On his LinkedIn page announcing the change, CrescentRating CEO Fazal Bahardeen said: "Let's not just Stay Home, but Stay Inspired and Stay Connected, as this will pass Insha Allah, even if takes a bit longer than we all want."

This Q&A with Fazal Bahardeen has been edited for language and brevity.

Salaam Gateway: How is CrescentRating as a company staying safe?

Fazal Bahardeen: As soon as the COVID-19 started to become a concern we started working on a Business Continuity Plan (BCP). Our first priority was to come up with plans to safeguard the health of our team and their families.

With the BCP in place we were pretty much ready to shift to work from home mode whenever the situation needed. This is what we did on March 15. We have been working from home since then.

While we work remotely, our business remains operational and we are continuing to work hard to serve the industry in whatever way possible. I have written a detailed post on our planning and experience in an article on LinkedIn.

2. It's a very difficult and confusing time and people are coping in different ways. Keeping in mind that CrescentRating as a business is rooted in the Islamic economy, what advice do you have that can help others who run small businesses stay positive and move forward with hope?

The current situation is extremely challenging and no company is safe. More than other times, the current situation requires you to get back to basics and keep things simple, so that you can have a clear mind to navigate this storm as patiently as possible. Few things that we have done or are doing:

  • In these times, it is extremely important that the whole team continues to be convinced of the reasons why you are doing what you are doing. As such, having a discussion with the team on the vision and mission of the company and renewing the commitment of the team is extremely important. 
  • Have a Business Continuity Plan. Discuss the plans with your team. The process of doing this will in itself help the whole team to be mentally prepared for any situation.
  • The current crisis we are facing will have an extremely disruptive impact on the future of small businesses, whether they are in the Islamic economy or not. As such it is crucial that you do some level of scenario planning. Most small businesses may not have the know-how to do it, in which case they should seek help.
  • And most importantly, we need to fully embrace the certainties of life as our faith teaches us. Unless we fully accept the certainties, we will not be able to navigate the uncertainties calmly.

3. How do you see the travel industry that you're in contact with cope with this pandemic?

Most travel businesses are trying their best to stay afloat.

It is not rocket science to realise that this crisis will see closing down of many of them, which unfortunately means job losses. The challenges don’t end as soon as the lockdowns, safe distancing, etc.  are relaxed. It will be a long road ahead to get back to the 2019 levels of business.

The good news is, although we might have to re-think, re-design and re-evaluate travel behaviour in the future, it will still be a key lifestyle choice of humans. We have been doing that for thousands of years and we will continue to be explorers. However the behaviour of travelers may change. Those small businesses who can survive and anticipate these behavioural changes will still be able to navigate pass this with minimum damage to their business.

4. Is there any sector or companies in the travel industry that are still doing ok, and have their heads above water?

I don’t think there are any travel businesses that are not impacted drastically. At least in the short-term, it will be all about survival. Almost all travel companies are looking at ways to survive. The longer this crisis continues the more difficult it will become for companies in the travel sector to survive.  

5. Looking around at your industry, what have you seen being implemented that is helping businesses badly hit by travel bans and continuing restrictions?

Most companies are doing similar things as we have done.

6. While we all go through this crisis, what do you suggest businesses do in preparation for when this passes, in sha Allah?

It is imperative for businesses to do some scenario planning as I mentioned before.

The businesses need to brainstorm on how consumer behaviour will change post COVID-19.

There may be businesses that will not see a huge change in the behaviour of their customers.  Even if you have the ability to get past the first challenge of survival, it is also hugely importantly to make sure your business is still solving a problem in the post-COVID era. Businesses needs to brainstorm if customers will still behave the same in trying to solve problems.

No one has a crystal ball, but as small businesses we need to do prepare ourselves for a future which may be influenced by new behaviour patterns of consumers. 

7. We've heard anecdotal reports from travel and hospitality-related companies that hotel groups have already started planning and coming up with new strategies for a post-pandemic world. Do you believe this is a good move?

It is never too early to plan ahead!

8. What would an example of such a strategy be for the halal travel space?

As I mentioned earlier, travel as a lifestyle will not go away. This is true for Muslim travelers as well.

It is very likely that safety and health will become a key concern once they start travelling. I believe all the work we at CrescentRating have done with travel stakeholders to prepare for the Muslim travel market will become much more relevant in a post COVID-19 era (whenever that happens!)

9. Is there anything companies in the industry can do to partner, collaborate or help each other? Is this already happening in the travel industry?

I believe partnering will become a necessity rather than a good thing to do.

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