The UAE has maintained second position to Malaysia in the Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI). The report, compiled by Mastercard-Crescentrating, canvassed a total 130 countries of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) and non-OIC countries. It found in 2016 there was an estimated 121 million international Muslim travellers, equivalent to 10 per cent of the entire travel industry, up from 117 million in 2015. The research showed the Muslim travel market is expected to grow to US$220 billion in 2020, with 156 million Muslim international travellers, and $300bn by 2026.
“The UAE remains a very attractive destination and it will be interesting to see whether it will displace Malaysia over the next few years,” said Fazal Bahardeen, chief executive of Crescentrating & HalalTrip. He said a new breed of influencers and millenials were showing a desire to explore the world while keeping true to their faith. “They will be the driving force for the next phase of growth which destinations like UAE will have to embrace and implement measures accordingly and could well be the key to taking the top spot from Malaysia.
He said the younger travelers wanted greater choice, unique experiences and constant connectivity which can be seen with the growth of other Muslim lifestyle segments such as Halal food and modest fashion.
Increasingly non-IOC countries are adapting their services and offerings to cater to the Muslim travel market.
Singapore retained its top position for the non-OIC destinations, with Thailand, the UK, South Africa and Hong Kong rounding up the top five.
Faith-based tourism and religious tourism are two sides of the same coin. Saudi Arabia, which comes 5th on the list of OIC countries, sees Makkah, and religious tourism, as by far the largest hospitality market in the kingdom, with around 27,000 quality rooms compared to 11,000 in Riyadh and 9,400 in Jeddah, according to property consultancy JLL. The hotels typically achieve 100 percent occupancy during the Haj period and the Umrah high season however occupancy falls to just 30 per cent to 40 per cent immediately after Ramadan and Haj, according to JLL.