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Operators tap into halal travel market

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But finding halal restaurants for groups is a struggle

It’s a market waiting to be served. Many are bothering to, seeing how halal travel demand is growing and requiring real value added.

Kuoni Group Travel Experts (GTE) now moves as many as 150 Muslim-only tour groups a year from key Asian markets to European destinations and, increasingly, to the Middle East and the US.

These are small families, government groups or large MICE movements with up to 1,000 travellers. Kuoni GTE’s head of MICE sales in Asia, Reto Kaufmann, estimates that annual growth could be as high as 30%, with the MICE market increasing fastest.

Last year, the company saw double-digit increases in room nights booked by groups from Indonesia and India, while those from Bangladesh quadrupled. China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand also offer big numbers of potential Muslim travellers. China, with a Muslim population of 23 million, recorded a 6% rise in room nights booked with Kuoni GTE last year.

As many as 72 countries have a million or more Muslim inhabitants and 60% of them live in the Asia-Pacific. Catering to Muslim travellers is increasingly important, with rising disposable incomes and a younger demographic among them. But there are still challenges.

Agencies catering to the market know that pork-free is not necessarily halal. But try explaining that to a restaurant in Europe. Finding halal restaurants and Muslim-friendly facilities is the fundamental challenge. On many tours, only parts of the program comply with Islamic rules.

Not all countries have halal certification bodies and instead rely on travel consultants to develop halal products.

But being halal, like eating organic, can be expensive, and agency heads are angry with operators who keep costs down by taking clients simply to pork-free restaurants whereas his agency uses only halal-certified ones. For agencies handling MICE groups, finding halal restaurants that can cater to big groups is a struggle.

TTG Asia

[pictured: Kaaba at the heart of Mecca]

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