One of the major driving forces behind the increasing growth rate of halal products and services is the rising number of Muslim consumers globally, which is more than two billion at present. The inclusive nature of halal, which promotes quality, sustainability, healthfulness, and social responsibility, has resulted in halal tourism creating a universal appeal and drawing the attention of non-Muslim consumers as well.
Realizing the potential of the industry, non-Muslim majority countries such as Singapore, the United Kingdom, Thailand, Taiwan, and others are also making efforts to tap the market and invest in creating Muslim-friendly facilities. Such investment in tourist destinations attracts more Muslim travelers, thereby reaping the rewards in terms of increased tourism revenue. This article intends to explore how Muslim-friendly facilities have had a positive impact on the tourism industry of the UK (a non-Muslim majority country) as evidence of the rising influence of Muslim travelers worldwide.
The fastest-growing market within the global halal industry is the halal tourism market. As more tourist destinations are offering Muslim-friendly amenities and services, the halal travel market is expanding across the world. According to the Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2023, Muslim international arrivals reached 110 million in 2019, and this figure is projected to grow to 230 million by 2028. Several catalyzing factors are responsible for this increasing trend. Most importantly, the rising global Muslim population has generated a heightened need for travel alternatives that uphold the religious and cultural norms of Muslim travelers.
Additionally, the increasing trend in the use of modern technologies (social media, AI tools, online travel platforms, etc.) has resulted in the expansion of the halal tourism market. These technologies have enhanced the travel experiences of Muslim travelers in terms of planning, sharing experiences, easy navigation, and more. As a result of such information sharing about Muslim-friendly destinations has created a sense of community among Muslim travelers, encouraging them to explore new places that cater to their needs.
The United Kingdom has recognized the potential of the Muslim travel market and has actively worked to accommodate Muslim travelers. Today, the UK offers a range of Muslim-friendly facilities and services that cater to the diverse needs of Muslim visitors.
One of the primary concerns for Muslim travelers is finding halal food. The UK has responded by offering a wide variety of halal restaurants and food outlets across the country. Cities like London, Birmingham, and Manchester are renowned for their diverse halal dining options, ranging from traditional British fare to international cuisine. The number of German Doner Kebab restaurants has experienced a notable increase, expanding from 71 restaurants as of 2020 to a total of 146 by the end of 2022.
Another essential requirement for Muslim travelers is access to prayer facilities (searching mosques, qibla directions, prayer times, etc.). The UK has ensured that mosques and prayer rooms are available in airports, shopping centers, and major tourist destinations, making it convenient for Muslim visitors to perform their daily prayers.
The UK's hospitality industry has also adapted to cater to Muslim travelers. Many hotels now offer products and services (e.g., prayer mats, qibla direction, water-friendly washrooms and toiletries, Muslim-friendly tour guides, gender-segregated gyms and spas, etc.), ensuring a comfortable and convenient stay for guests. The number of Muslim-friendly hotels is growing in the UK, which is evident by the rising number of Halal-accredited hotels and resorts by CrescentRating.
The UK boasts a rich cultural heritage, and Muslim-friendly facilities have been integrated into cultural attractions such as museums, Muslim heritage, exhibitions of Muslims’ contributions, and historical sites. This allows Muslim travelers to explore the country's history and heritage while adhering to their religious practices.
Travel agencies and tour operators in the UK have also tailored their services to cater to Muslim travelers offering halal holiday packages. Such packages include halal meals, guided tours to Islamic heritage sites, accommodations that align with Islamic principles, and other Muslim-friendly services.
Statistics from the International Passenger Survey Total UK 2023 presented in the following figure show the UK's tourism revenue, which reached £28.4 billion in 2019, experienced a significant dip to £6.2 billion in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, by 2022, it had rebounded to £26.5 billion, indicating a strong recovery and resilience in the industry. The inclusion of Muslim-friendly products and services has resulted in increased tourism revenue by tapping the halal tourism market. Concurrently, the Halal food and beverage (F&B) market in the UK constituted a significant share of the overall F&B market in the country.
One primary factor contributing to the increasing number of Muslim tourists in the UK is the growing preference among individuals to visit the country due to the accessible Muslim-friendly amenities and facilities. One plausible hypothesis posits that the UK has garnered a favorable perception among Muslim tourists, thereby prompting an increased inclination among them to select it as their preferred travel destination.
Muslim tourists often prefer to extend their stays to destinations that demonstrate high respect for their religious beliefs and cultural practices. The presence of Muslim-friendly establishments in the UK has the potential to extend the duration of tourists' stays, thereby generating increased revenue for the tourism industry.
Muslim tourists are more inclined to engage in expenditure on various activities such as dining, accommodation, and shopping when they perceive that their requirements are being adequately fulfilled. Muslim tourists are more inclined to allocate their financial resources when they have access to their faith-based needs, such as halal dining establishments and designated areas for prayer during their vacation.
Positive word-of-mouth is another indicator that underscores the advantages of catering to Muslim tourists. Contented Muslim travelers serve as proponents of the destination. Muslim individuals enthusiastically share their remarkable encounters with their peers, friends, and loved ones, both through face-to-face interactions and various online platforms, thereby significantly contributing to the growth of tourism within the Muslim community.
Finally, Muslim-friendly tourism services are offered in customized forms, such as family-friendly and women-friendly, enabling the industry to attract a wider range of travelers. Such tailored services and inclusivity enable the UK tourism market to capture all Muslim travelers, thereby enhancing its tourism revenue.
The United Kingdom's commitment to providing Muslim-friendly facilities has not gone unnoticed on the global stage. The UK has consistently been ranked among the top non-Muslim majority countries in the Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI). This index ranks nations according to how accommodating they are to Muslims. As illustrated in the following figure, with a 73 on the GMTI, Indonesia and Malaysia are among the top Muslim travel destinations in the world. Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that countries like Singapore and the United Kingdom are also actively competing, with scores of 64 and 58, respectively, despite not having a Muslim-majority population.
Among the non-OIC countries, the UK has consistently maintained a prominent position within the top three destinations from 2015 to 2023, demonstrating its enduring attractiveness to Muslim tourists. Simultaneously, the ACES (Access, Communications, Environment, and Services) framework is also used in the calculation of GMTI rankings. This framework ranks destinations based on how well they accommodate Muslim tourists in a variety of ways. The United Kingdom is one of the top 10 Muslim-friendly travel destinations in terms of both communication and environment, according to the GMTI ranking for 2023. Alongside Singapore, the UK stands out as a shining example of how a non-Muslim majority country can excel in catering to Muslim travelers.
The increasing prominence of Muslim-friendly tourism in nations with non-Muslim majorities is apparent through the proactive efforts undertaken by the United Kingdom to accommodate Muslim tourists and offer an extensive array of services tailored to their needs. The initiative mentioned above has had a notable influence on the tourism sector of the nation and its global reputation. The influence is also evident in other non-Muslim nations such as Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and many others. The halal tourism industry is the fastest-growing segment among all the other segments of the halal industry. This shows how appealing halal offerings are and how they are having a bigger effect on the tourism industry around the world
For a broader insight on the Halal Travel Market, please check out the Mastercard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2023 on this link here!
Md Siddique E Azam
Ph.D. in Halal Industry Management
International Institute for Halal Research and Training (INHART), IIUM