The growth of the global Muslim population, especially the increasingly affluent younger Muslim market, signals the overwhelmingly positive potential for Muslim-friendly travel-related products and services.
According to the 2018 edition of the Mastercard- CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI), this unique consumer segment is on course to spend USD 220 billion by 2020, and it is expected to grow a further USD 80 billion to reach USD 300 billion by 2026. In 2017, there were an estimated 131 million Muslim visitor arrivals globally, up from 121 million in 2016, and this is forecast to grow to 156 million visitors by 2020, representing 10% of the global travel segment.
Muslim Millennial Travelers
The GMTI identifies the younger Muslim population as one of the key drivers of future growth in the Muslim travel market. The report estimates that, in 2017, more than 36% of Muslim travelers were millennials, with another 33% classifying as Gen Z. It is projected that the expenditure of Muslim millennial travelers (MMT) will surpass USD 100 billion by 2025.
As a key travel market sub-segment, MMTs present a different set of value propositions in their travel consumption and expenditure patterns, and it is critical to gain deeper insights into their travel motivations and decision-making processes. Based on the findings of the Mastercard-HalalTrip Muslim Millennial Travel Report 2017, MMT trends can be categorized into the three As (3As) — authentic, affordable, and accessible. These 3As encapsulate key travel patterns across the MMTs’ trip experience right from trip planning to the actual experience and later sharing it with others.
As digital and social environments play key roles in the everyday lives of MMTs, destinations and service providers must evolve their offerings to ensure their brands are aligned with the 3As in order to best equip their services to this emerging segment.
Top Outbound Markets
Travelers from Gulf Cooperation Council countries are the largest group of holiday-goers, contributing 37% of the total expenditure by the Muslim market. Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore contribute about 10% of the total spend, while Iran and Turkey in total represent 16% of global Muslim tourism expenditure. Non- Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries account for 25% of the Muslim traveler expenditure, most notably the UK, Germany, France, and Singapore.
Faith-based Needs of Muslim Travelers
Six faith-based needs have been identified by Crescent Rating as the main priorities for Muslim travelers. For ease of implementation, these have been categorized as ‘Need to have’, ‘Good to have’, and ‘Nice to have’. While the majority of Muslim travelers adhere to some of these needs, the level of importance varies among Muslims. Understanding and catering to these faith-based needs will not only increase numbers of Muslim tourists to destinations but will also enable opportunities for new business ventures, particularly among small to medium enterprises.
- Need to Have
In the ‘Need to Have’ category are Halal food services and prayer facilities (such as prayer rooms equipped with foot washing facilities). Having an acceptable level of these services in places like hotels, attractions, theme parks, and shopping malls is integral to having a sustained growth of Muslim travelers. Halal food is by far the most important service that a Halal- conscious traveler is looking for when traveling, and access to food outlets with proper Halal assurance that is easily identifiable will make Muslim visitors’ stay worry-free when it comes to food.
- Good to Have
The availability of water in washrooms and the ability of a destination to cater to the Muslim traveler during the month of fasting (Ramadhan) are next on the priority of needs and are categorized as ‘Good to Have’. Use of water in toilets is Muslim etiquette, and not having a proper setup to do that is discomforting for travelers. Fortunately, providing such facilities has become less cumbersome now with the widespread availability of hand showers and bidets, or even Japanese-style toilets.
Although Muslims are less likely to travel during the month of Ramadhan, there is still a good number looking to spend this time away from home, especially if this period coincides with school holidays. Destinations seeking to target this period need to be able to cater for the special needs related to the month of fasting.
- Nice to Have
Finally, in the ‘Nice to Have’ category are those services or facilities with no non-halal services and/ or activities and recreational services that provide privacy for males and females. There is a growing sub-segment of Muslim travelers who are looking for destinations, resorts, and the like offering these types of services. Some resorts in Turkey are already targeting holidaymakers and are reaping significant benefits.
Catering to the above set of needs, all the way from arriving at the airport to settling in at the accommodation site and visiting attractions, will make the destination an attractive choice for the Muslim tourist.
Malaysia continues to top the GMTI as the leading destination for Muslim travelers. The country has managed to maintain its leadership as one of the best destinations for Muslim travelers in terms of the various criteria that the GMTI analyses based on its ACES (access, communication, environment, and services) model. The services category includes criteria such as availability of Halal food and prayer facilities at the destination. Indonesia has also been rising in the ranking the last few years.
Naturally, OIC destinations have a distinct advantage on the index due to the readily available Muslim-friendly facilities and services. However, non-OIC destinations have managed to scale the ranking by improving their services to better attract the Muslim travel market. Among non-Organization of Islamic Conference destinations, Singapore has been topping the index. The past few years have also seen significant improvement of Japan and Taiwan as Muslim-friendly destinations.
Driven by increased pressure to diversify their visitor arrivals, North Asian destinations have been actively courting this consumer segment. With several international sports events scheduled to take place in Japan and Korea in the next few years, culminating with the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, the region will see added urgency in finding ways to welcome this population of travelers.
There is also increasing interest from the African continent to attract the Muslim travel market, led by destinations such as South Africa.
The Muslim Traveler As a Global Citizen
With Islam’s strong emphasis on taking care of the environment, charity, and community, Muslim travelers will be supportive of destinations that are able to package their services around the universal themes of sustainability. Further, MMTs are becoming conscious of the need to balance their desire to experience unique travel destinations that are off the beaten track with their faith-inspired values to protect the environment and communities. Destinations could leverage this ready activism to build and promote products and services that not only attract MMTs but also empower them to become evangelists in promoting sustainable tourism.
The Muslim travel market continues to grow and evolve rapidly in a changing economic environment. With this market being one of the world’s highest spending tourist markets, destinations, businesses, and travel-related entities would do well to develop strategies to engage and attract this economically powerful segment proactively.