Bosnia could easily become a major Halal tourist destination tapping the huge potential of the growing Muslim consumer market, the country's cultural heritage and strategic geographic location, according to Amir Sakic, the head of the regional alaal certification institution - the Agency for Halaal Quality Certification.
The halaal hospitality industry caters to the needs of Muslim families who abide by Sharia rules. The most strict halaal hotels do not serve alcohol or pork; they have prayer facilities and separate swimming pools and spa facilities for men and women.
The mixture of different religions, customs and tradition combined with rich historic background and natural landscape makes Bosnia a hot tourist destination. To halaal tourists the country can be especially attractive with its cultural heritage of a territory that was once part of the Ottoman empire.
"We definitely have a significant inflow of foreign tourists from the Islamic countries, though we should not forget that quite a big number of people who live according to halaal rules and observe the halaal practices live in the European Union," Sakic said.
He said that more than 15 million Muslims live in the European Union, according to official data, and they are all potential clients of the halaal hospitality industry.
"It is important that these services are not limited to Muslims exclusively," he said, drawing a parallel with halaal food fans in Britain, two-thirds of whom are non-Muslims.
"If we have to make a profile of those who want such a service, these are not only people who come on vacation, but also people who come on business and for other reasons."
Sakic said that there is no comprehensive official data about foreign tourist arrivals in Bosnia but it is a fact that a huge number of tourists from Turkey visit the Balkan country throughout the year and the number of tourists coming from Kuwait is on the rise.
Halaal tourism is an emerging industry, which hopes to ride the wave of success of the Islamic food and banking industries. Progress, however, is slow. The agency Sakic heads was founded six years ago and since then has certified, or is in the process of certifying, all the leading food makers in Bosnia but has awarded only one licence to a local restaurant - the Terasa restaurant in Sarajevo - and none to a hotel yet.
This situation will change shortly as the country's first halaal hotel will soon be certified, he said, adding that the agency is reviewing several certification applications at the moment.
"We already have hotels that are 90 per cent ready to provide such a service," he said.
In June, the agency signed a partnership agreement with Singapore-based Crescentrating, the world leader in providing halaal-friendly rating for the travel services, on the promotion of halaal-friendly travel services and facilities in Southeast Europe.
Halaal-friendly hotels are ranked on a one-to-seven grade scale according to the scope of halaal services they provide. A rating of one to three implies practically no adjustment to a regular hotel apart from the "soft change" that includes readiness to provide guests with specific information about halaal services and facilities in the hotel's surrounding area. Grades four and five mean the hotel's restaurant should serve halaal food.
Hotels graded six and seven are known as "dry hotels" as they offer no alcohol.
Halaal hotels in Bosnia can start off with a very good grade, as one reason for this is the progress made in the certification of food companies which guarantees smooth supply of halaal food, Sakic said.
The scope of the agency is not limited to Bosnia only. It is the only halaal certification oragnisation in SEE, issuing halaal certificates to catering facilities and hotels in Albania, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Slovenia, Serbia, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Greece, Bulgaria and Macedonia. It provides halaal certification of the food industry, as well as other industrial branches, on the territory of Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. It has so far issued certificates for more than 1500 food products to companies from the ex-Yugoslavia countries.
"Excluding Kosovo, where such a certification has not yet officially started, all other republics of former Yugoslavia already have certified food producers," Sakic said.
Back to tourism, in June the agency together with Crescentrating organised a round table to promote halaal travel services, targeting hoteliers and tourism agencies from Bosnia, Slovenia and Montenegro. The event has yielded tangible results.
"In the first week after the promotion we received a line of inquiries from tourism agencies from the Gulf countries, asking us to help them establish contact with our agencies so that they could co-operate in the sector."
Inspired by the success, Sakic said more such promotions in other countries in the region will follow. The role of the local tourist agencies in promoting this service and including it in tourist packages and arrangements is extremely important, he said.
Most applications for halaal hotel certificates come from Bosnia and Slovenia, Sakic said, adding that he expects to see interest rise after the end of the summer season.
"Busy work on co-ordinating and preparing for awarding certificates to winter resort hotels is underway at the moment, and it is pretty certain that before the start of the winter season a definite number of hotels will be completely ready to provide halaal services to their clients."
In the summer resorts, the preparations for the launch of halaal services should be wrapped up during the autumn and the winter, he said.
Bosnia has only several kilometers of coastline but is rich in picturesque mountains that could be promoted as tourism destinations throughout the year.
"The mountain resorts hide significant potential and can be interesting beyond the winter season with an adequate organisation of recreation and sport activities such as mountain trekking, paragliding and others," Sakic said.
Bosnian capital Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics and nine sports venues in the city and its surrounding mountains were used.
In Sakic's view, Bosnia should promote the full range of its attractions as a traditional tourist destination to lure halaal tourists - its medieval heritage, as well as the numerous monuments from the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian period.
Crescentrating said that the three highest-ranked places in its 2011 list of top 10 destinations for Muslim travellers worldwide were Malaysia, Turkey and Egypt.
The share of Muslim travellers in the 2010 global tourism spending rose to nine per cent, or $90 billion, from six percent in 2006, data from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation and Crescentrating showed.
Crescentrating sees the share of Muslim travellers in global tourism spending moving up to between 12.5 per cent and 15 per cent in 2020, which translates to between $188 billion and $225 billion, based on the rising share of Muslims in the world's population.
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