Muslims are a unique market segment as some of their needs and wants are guided by their Islamic faith. This influences what food they consume, the clothes they wear and even their financial transactions. This consumption behavior is evident among Muslim travelers when traveling where they look for services that satisfy their faith-based needs.
In 2009, CrescentRating identified six key faith-based needs that influence the consumption behavior of Muslim travelers. These needs were: 1) Halal Food 2) Prayer Facilities 3) Ramadan Services 4) Water-Friendly Washrooms 5) No Non-Halal activities and 6) Recreational Facilities and Services with Privacy
Muslims, like other consumers, are not homogenous in their adherence to the faith-based needs. Thus, these needs are grouped under “Need to have”, “Good to have” and “Nice to have” to help service providers prioritize implementation.
The needs that were most important to have are Halal Food and Prayer Facilities under “Need to Have” while the needs that were less important but “Good to have” are Water-Friendly Washrooms and Ramadan Services. Recreational Facilities with Privacy and having No Non-Halal services are grouped under “Nice to Have”.
With the rapid developments in the Halal Tourism ecosystem, the changing profile of Muslim travelers and global events, there was a need to revisit this model. With this, in January 2019, CrescentRating embarked on a study and an online survey to re-examine the faith-based service needs model published in 2009.
While the study validated six needs identified in 2009, it has also uncovered three new needs: 1) No Islamophobia 2) Social Causes and 3) Local Muslim Experiences. This has now given rise to the “Muslim Traveler Faith-Based Service Needs 2.0”.
Halal food is the most important service that a Muslim traveler looks for when traveling. Acceptability of the different levels of Halal food assurance varies among Muslim travelers. Having food outlets with proper and easily identifiable Halal assurance is the preferred option sought by Muslims and is key to diminish skepticism.
Prayer is one of the central elements of Islamic practice and worship and it is the second of the five pillars of Islam. While traveling, some will combine prayers and perform them three times a day.
Another important consideration is the facilities to perform ablution ritual referred to as Wudhu. Wudhu is a cleansing ritual performed by a Muslim before their prayers.
Destinations should look at providing prayer rooms with Qiblah directions marked and equipped with prayer tools like prayer mats and prayer garments. These rooms could be fitted with ablution fixtures and made available at areas frequented by travelers such as airports and tourist attractions.
For Muslims, water plays a key role in purity and cleanliness, both of which are core aspects of the faith. Physical cleanliness is stressed as an essential component of being a Muslim. Special attention is thus given to hygiene in the washroom. This entails the use of water in the toilets and it is discomforting for Muslim travelers where the setup for water use is unavailable.
Providing such facilities is less cumbersome now with the widespread availability of hand showers, bidets and even Japanese-style toilets. Common in Muslim countries as well as South and Southeast Asian countries, the hand shower is a plumbing fixture placed in a holder against a wall by the toilet.
With Islamophobic sentiments lingering in some regions, Muslim travelers are deterred from visiting destinations that are perceived to be unwelcoming. Like any traveler, Muslims want their safety and security guaranteed in the destination they are traveling to. With increasing hate crimes seen around the world, safety has become a primary concern for Muslim travelers.
Besides Ramadan Services still being a good to have service, the key difference between the new model and the old is that two other needs have been identified in this category. These are 1) Social Causes and 2) Local Muslim Experiences.
A key tenet of the Islamic Faith is social justice. This includes being mindful and having empathy towards self, others and the environment. Social causes include the ability to improve local living conditions, various green initiatives to protect the environment and eco-friendly tourism practices. Driven by their Islamic faith and the global trend towards sustainability, Muslims are becoming more conscious of being socially responsible in their travels.
Although Muslims are less likely to travel during the month of Ramadan, there are still many looking to spend this time away from home, especially if this period coincides with school holidays. In addition, an increasing number of Muslims are performing umrah during Ramadan and taking holiday breaks during the two Muslim festivals. Destinations looking to attract Muslim travelers during this period need to be able to accommodate their special needs during the month of fasting. Some examples include catering of pre-dawn Halal meals by hotels and providing dates to diners to break their fasts at restaurants.
Local Muslim experiences refer to experiences unique to the destination that allows the traveler to connect with their Muslim identity and heritage. This includes visits and tours to Islamic heritage sites, interacting with local Muslim communities at a local mosque or experiencing the country with a Muslim tour guide.
Under Nice to have services, the same faith-based needs identified in 2009 are retained. There is no difference between the old and new model in this category. These services are viewed as less important as compared to the other needs but would be an advantage and differentiator for businesses interested in offering niche, halal tourism products.
A sub-segment of Muslim travelers are looking for recreational facilities that provide privacy for males and females.
These may include the following facilities:
One of the ways service providers can ensure privacy is by deploying the same gender staff to manage the facilities. In addition, customer service personnel should be educated and trained to manage the needs of Muslim travelers.
Muslims consider some activities to be ‘Haram’ or non-Halal. Thus, when it comes to traveling, it is important for services to center have a family-friendly environment. As such, some Muslims would prefer to avoid facilities that serve alcohol, have discotheques or are adjacent to a gambling resort.
Destinations and service providers can provide better experiences for Muslim guests by satisfying the “Need to Have” services. They can also add more unique value by delivering “Good to Have” and “Nice to Have” services. The following model is based on the research where participants were asked to score venues that should have faith-based services according to levels of priority. These places were grouped into 3 groups: Priority 1, Priority 2 and Priority 3.
Priority 1 includes airports and hotels
Priority 2 includes event venues, shopping malls and attractions
Priority 3 includes highway rest areas, planes and railway stations.
Destinations looking to make Muslim travelers’ journeys comfortable and seamless needs to look at implementing faith-based services at priority 1 venues, followed by priority 2 and lastly priority 3.