Islamic Lifestyle

What’s in a name? Is halal travel by any other label also Shariah-compliant, Muslim-friendly?

Photo: Arab tourists enjoy some snow on top of Kitzsteinhorn mountain near Zell am See, Austria, August 30, 2016. Picture taken August 30, 2016. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Nomenclature and branding mutate based on the geo-demographics of the halal travel industry’s source markets

The next time you travel, it’s likely you will choose a destination, hotel and agency based on one of the following appellations: ‘halal’, ‘Muslim-friendly’, ‘family-friendly’ or ‘Shariah-compliant’. But are these not all the same?

Travel industry experts say the labelling of the travel product is increasingly dependent on the market to which it caters. It is not unusual for brands to vary their message depending on their target audience. Once the basic boxes for halal-friendliness – availability of food, availability of prayer facilities, segregated pools – have been checked, destinations build on other aspects to attract the right tourist.

Ufuk Seçgin, Marketing Manager at, told Salaam Gateway the terminology varies throughout the world. “Halal tourism is branded and known by different terms in different parts of the world. In Turkey, it is known as ‘alternative tourism’ within the local halal-friendly tourism market. In the Western world, it is commonly known as halal tourism and the properties as halal resorts and hotels. In the Arab world, we market those more as ‘family-friendly’, ‘Muslim-friendly’, and ‘for Muslims’.“

While the size of the Muslim travel market is large – the latest Mastercard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) puts the number of Muslim international visitors in 2015 at 117 million, and estimated to touch 168 million by 2020 – the key to branding is in segmentation.

“The halal-friendly positioning in the broader world is a strategic move, to tap into the travel ambitions of many traditionally Islamic families as well as Middle Eastern migrants to other markets worldwide.” - Antoine Medawar, Vice President, Amadeus MENA


Religious travel comprises only about 10 percent and is mostly focused on hajj and umrah.  Business travel takes care of a further 10 percent. Travel for medical or healthcare reasons is less than 1 per cent of the Muslim travel market. The majority – 75 percent – of Muslim travel is for leisure, including visiting friends and relatives.

Many destinations, including Abu Dhabi and Malaysia, which offer basics such as halal food as default, have a two-pronged source market. The Abu Dhabi Leisure and Tourism Department, for instance, uses terminology depending on the target audience. The GCC remains one of the biggest source markets for Abu Dhabi because of its proximity and cultural similarities. To promote the halal quotient of the destination in other GCC, Arabian or Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries may be unnecessary and the destination is promoted as a family-friendly destination in these places. However, to attract stakeholders from other, particularly Western, markets, the term halal becomes an important attraction.

Antoine Medawar, Vice President at Amadeus MENA, told Salaam Gateway, “For a destination like Abu Dhabi to position itself as offering a halal experience within the GCC states would be stating the obvious. Muslim travellers are fully confident of finding halal-compliant accommodation, entertainment, dining and family activities in Muslim countries and the leading Muslim destinations include Malaysia, Turkey, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

“The halal-friendly positioning in the broader world is a strategic move, to tap into the travel ambitions of many traditionally Islamic families as well as Middle Eastern migrants to other markets worldwide,” he said.

In Malaysia, which built its halal travel market on the back of air connectivity with OIC countries, non-Muslim travellers with families are now seen opting for Muslim-friendly hotels because they are perceived as family-friendly. 

Irfan Ahmad, CEO and Editor in Chief of Irhal, a site offering destination guides for the Muslim traveller, told Salaam Gateway, “Halal tourism or Muslim-friendly tourism or family-friendly tourism are descriptions of similar groups of tourists. The distinction is that Muslim tourists additionally require halal food and segregated pools or beaches. All three want an environment that is focussed on family entertainment and a family-friendly ethos, where there is an absence of alcohol and loud music.

“In Muslim countries you do not have to claim to be halal or Muslim-friendly because all food will be halal. By claiming that you are a destination where there are hotels that are alcohol-free or family-friendly you give the family traveller an incentive to visit.  In a non-Muslim country you need to promote that you cater to halal tourism to reassure guests that their dietary needs will be met.”

“In the GCC universities, you will find a higher population of females than males ... There is probably a growing market for women and we need to make sure that they are comfortable and secure.” - Fazal Bahardeen, CEO, CrescentRating


With the market maturing and customers becoming more demanding, it’s increasingly difficult to serve the traveller with labels focusing on the absence of things such as loud music or alcohol, rather than stating what they do offer.

The business case is for being seen as inclusive and inviting to everyone rather than only Muslims, while keeping to a certain view of life. Brands need to talk about who they are and what they offer. The Muslim leisure traveller is a category subdivided into myriad sectors including family tourism, adventure holidays and luxury travel, among others.  

Travel specialists say the leisure traveller is as, if not more, varied than the non-Muslim counterpart. Apart from a growing middle class and increase in disposable income, the average age of the traveller makes a difference. “They are a younger community compared to any other faith-based traveller, so the propensity to travel is higher,” Fazal Bahardeen, CEO, CrescentRating, told Salaam Gateway.

The newly-announced Muzbnb, for instance, introduces itself to the world with its faith-based credentials stated upfront with ‘Muz’ being shorthand for ‘Muslim’. The terminology on its blog is millennial-friendly, telling readers it addresses worries such as “where you will get your snooze on” and promising that “it’s going to be awesome.”

Attia Nasar, Director of Communications at Muzbnb, told Salaam Gateway, “We hope Muzbnb’s name will speak to the rich culture of hospitality that Islam teaches. Our platform is open to be used by all those who support the Islamic values of hosts and travellers. We are prioritising rolling this out initially within the Muslim community and aim to broaden it in the future by highlighting that this can be a sanctuary for all faiths to be welcomed as they explore and travel the world.”

Among the list of categories is travel for personality development and single women travellers. Bahardeen told us that at a recent seven-day Productive Muslim retreat at least 60 percent of participants were women.

“More and more Muslim women are getting into the work space. In the GCC universities, you will find a higher population of females than males. They want to explore but there is the fear factor on where they can go. We saw at least three mother-daughter teams, where mothers were 60-plus and the daughters were in their mid-20s. There is probably a growing market for women and we need to make sure that they are comfortable and secure,” said CrescentRating’s Bahardeen. 

Nabeel Shariff, CEO of Serendipity Tailormade, a UK-based tour operator specialising in luxury halal travel, told Salaam Gateway, “Of course, Muslim consumers across the world have different aspirations, definitions and lifestyles. Our source markets are the UK and the U.S./Canada, so our clients have a very similar value proposition offered to them. However, we would have to change track if we decided to market to the GCC or the Indonesian market, both of whom have very different attitudes and preferences for travel.”

At Serendipity Tailormade, ‘Muslim-friendly’ is only an entry point. Prominently displayed are tags such as island living, adventure travel, group travel, honeymoon destinations, family travel and independent travellers., which claims the biggest consumer base from “halal-conscious travellers living in Western Europe and the local Turkish market” in addition to fast-growing GCC as a customer base and as a destination, the services are offered in various languages.

Seçgin said, “We market the properties in six languages to broadly six language geographic markets, taking into account the local nuances, preferences and values. We speak to our target audience in the way it makes most sense to them.”

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Shalini Seth, Media ME