SA ready to roll out the halaal welcome mat
As changing attitudes and US President Donald Trump's travel ban alienate Muslim tourists from traditionally popular destinations such as the US, other countries stand to cash in from the growing number of Muslim tourists globally - and South Africa is one of them.
Khalid Vawda's Johannesburg-based specialised halaal tour operator, Islamic Travels and Tours, illustrates the possibilities this trend presents. In the two years Vawda has been operating his business he has seen sustained growth, with queries from Muslim tourists now arriving daily.
"For halaal tourism in South Africa we are just about scratching the surface," Vawda said. "Previously, the international Muslim market was primarily centred on religious travel, which would be Mecca and Medina for pilgrimage.
"The new generation of Muslim tourists, who are professional, have huge disposable income and have grown up in the West, want to experience, in addition to pilgrimage, Muslim-friendly holidays all over the world. And that's where we come in."
According to the 2017 Global Muslim Travel Index by MasterCard and CrescentRating, an independent rating and accreditation service for Muslim-friendly travel services, the millennial traveller is the fastest-growing segment of this market.
It was estimated that last year there were 121-million Muslim international travellers. This number was projected to grow to 156-million by 2020, with Muslim tourists spending $220-billion. By 2026, Muslim travel expenditure is expected to jump to $300-billion.
Malaysia, where 60% of the population is Muslim, tops the index as the leading Muslim-friendly tourist destination among the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation countries, followed by the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia. Among non-OIC countries, South Africa ranks fourth.
"Malaysia offers a bit of the East and a bit of the West and the younger traveller looks for that. We've got all of that in South Africa," Vawda said.
Islamic Travels and Tours offers adventure packages with shark-cage diving, Cape-to-Kruger honeymoons, and dinners hosted by local Muslim families.
To tap further into the halaal tourism gold mine the domestic tourism sector should pull up its socks and target this market aggressively, Vawda said. If not, it would lose out to competitors such as Singapore, Thailand, Japan and Kenya.
By next year, Kenya will have established a national certification programme to get more of its tourism businesses to comply with Islamic standards, as it seeks to tap into the halaal tourism market.
South Africa does not have a certification programme for accommodation - something the South African National Halaal Authority and its peer regulatory organisations want to address. Counting in South Africa's favour, however, are the vibrant Muslim communities in Durban and Cape Town.
"An overlooked fact is that South Africa offers a strong, reliable and workable Islamic infrastructure that has a heritage of over 300 years in the country, with a multitude of organisations, mosques, education, social welfare, medical and financial institutions," said Sanha spokesman Ebi Lockhat.
Cape Town tour operator Rushdi Harper, a member of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association, said South Africa could boost its Muslim-friendly status if an effort was seen to be made in upgrading facilities and services.
"One simple example is that Muslims face a certain way when praying, towards Qibla in Mecca," he said. "An arrow pointing towards this direction could be installed against the ceiling in each room, should prayer facilities not be available."
Spearheading South Africa's Muslim-friendly tourism segment, Cape Town Tourism is working with CrescentRating to rate Muslim-friendly establishments in the city.
"Based on what we have learnt thus far, we are planning more education and awareness training concentrating on the restaurant and hotel industry as we realised that this is one of the key areas that requires in-depth training on catering to the faith-based needs of Muslim travellers," Cape Town Tourism CEO Enver Duminy said.
Through its Air Access initiative, the city has had more than 400,000 seats added to flights to Cape Town International Airport from countries Muslim tourists arrive from, including the UAE, Turkey and Ethiopia, between July 2015 and December 2016.
When they touched down in the Cape, Muslim tourists easily spent R15,000 a day, said Inge Dykman, head of leisure tourism and trade at Wesgro. "Muslim travellers often travel in our low season, they travel in large groups, they spend a quality amount of money in Cape Town and Western Cape", and they were beginning to explore other parts of the country, she said.
Franschhoek, in Cape wine country, is a popular destination.
"Though some of our visitors are halaal, some of them are not as staunch. They will purchase wine as part of a collection, though they do not drink it, and as gifts for their friends," said Dykman.
With more than 200 mosques in the Western Cape, the region is well positioned to accommodate Muslim tourists.
Vawda said visits to mosques and time for prayer were very important.
"Muslims love visiting mosques. It's a feeling of serenity. It's a feeling of tranquillity. It's a chance to put your head down before your creator."