The travel industry is often thought of as a saturated, high-barrier-to-entry and, of course, price-sensitive market.
While that’s partly true, the emergence of the Muslim travel sector has demonstrated that, in an ever-changing world, new opportunities will arise.
A decade ago, the term “halal-friendly” travel didn’t exist. The industry was familiar with adventure, solo and even kosher travel, so it was strange to think that the second-largest religion in the UK, according to the 2011 census, was completely underserved.
In the UK and many other developed nations, the Muslim travel market shares many similarities to the mass travel market, however it is the difference between the two that seems to perplex the industry.
As someone that lives and breathes travel, my experiences have defined my wanderlust and set the precedent for choosing my next journey.
My faith-based requirements as a Muslim will determine how easy that trip is going to be – and that’s where the industry can step in.
There are more than three million Muslims in the UK, the majority of whom are second and third generation, and their appetite to travel is equal to that of their non-Muslim peers.
However, having access to halal food, alcohol-free personal spaces (for example, rooms), privacy for those special occasions and being able to fulfil prayer obligations are key considerations when choosing a destination.
Another significant, albeit unfortunate, need is for Muslim travellers to feel safe given the evident rise in Islamophobic incidents.
That’s why the emergence of halal-friendly resorts in Turkey, for example, have proven so popular, giving Muslim travellers the opportunity to enjoy a package beach holiday in an environment in which they feel comfortable.
However, this has led to widespread misunderstanding as to what the Muslim travel market is and what Muslim travellers seek, incorrectly narrowing it down to women-only beaches and alcohol-free hotels.
The truth is that Muslim traveller needs are diverse, ranging from an affordable summer beach holiday to trekking in South America, and everything in between.
With a basic understanding of what Muslim travellers desire and asking customers what they need, which will vary greatly, travel agents can source the right travel experience and provide clarity and assurance, catering to some, if not all, requirements.
The Muslim travel market has the potential to become a significant contributor to the UK inbound and outbound travel industry over the next decade, if destinations invest in the relevant services and facilities and the travel trade improves its knowledge of the sector.
Japan is a great example of a destination that has invested in providing a halal-friendly travel offering, and it has paid dividends.
In 2004 the country received around 150,000 Muslim travellers and today the figure has risen to 1.2 million a year, generating increasingly significant tourism GDP contribution.
The importance of the Muslim traveller may not be obvious to everyone, but it is possibly one of the largest untapped niche travel markets in the UK – and one savvy travel professionals should consider as a new source of business.