It's official: Muslim women are at the forefront of one of the fastest-growing sectors of the travel industry.
According to the latest report by MasterCard and CrescentRating, there were more than 140 million international Muslim travellers last year, and nearly half of them were women. Of these 63 million female travellers, several took more than three trips per year, primarily for leisure purposes. Importantly, the report found that these women are the lead decision-makers when it comes to family travel.
But what do female Muslim travellers want from a holiday? What most women want, it turns out. Safety and security, coupled with good food options, retail experiences and sightseeing opportunities. In addition, they want to eat halal food and stay in hotels with a female-only spa or alcohol-free mini bar. As a result, several destinations around the world are making a point of becoming more halal and female-friendly. Here are the places doing it best, according to the 2019 MasterCard CrescentRating Muslim Women in Travel study.
One of the world's most overlooked destinations, tiny Brunei welcomes fewer than 300,000 visitors every year, but is a hit with halal visitors. It is one of the safest places in the world, ranking third for security in the MasterCard CrescentRating study.
Direct flights from the UAE will get you to Brunei in eight hours and capital Bandar Seri Begawan has a rich Islamic history that makes halal-friendly sightseeing easy. The Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque is one of the country's most famous tourist attractions and is considered one of the most beautiful mosques in the Asia-Pacific region.
Away from the city, travellers have the opportunity to reconnect with nature. About two-thirds of the country is covered in rainforest, and visitors can come face-to-face with some of the world’s rarest wildlife, including proboscis monkeys and Sunda clouded leopards. Bruneian cuisine is another highlight and dining out is easy as almost all food is halal. The same goes for accommodation, with halal hotels plentiful and facilities for female travellers – such as prayer rooms and privacy screens – readily available, especially in the capital.
9. The UK
One of five non-Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) countries to make it on to the top 10 halal-friendly destinations for women is the United Kingdom. In the capital, a large Muslim population makes it easy to find halal food and places to worship, and London is also home to several halal-friendly luxury hotels – try the Holiday Villa Hotel London or The Dorchester, both of which offer halal food and prayer facilities.
For travellers who want to explore more than just the capital, cities such as Manchester, Birmingham and Bradford are good picks thanks to their large Muslim populations, which equates to hassle-free halal travel. In Scotland, the Dunalastair Hotel Suites at Loch Rannoch serves up a full halal menu, paired with a glorious side of Schiehallion mountain views. In Wales, capital Cardiff is transforming into a cultural centre where museums, landmarks and halal-friendly dining can be found within easy walking distance of the city centre.
The country's unique mix of cultures makes it a melting pot, so halal travellers, like all others, will find themselves well catered to. Sydney has the largest Muslim population in the country – it's also where the popular burkini was invented so that Muslim women could more easily enjoy the city's famed beaches. Halal food is readily available and travellers can find anything from traditional Lebanese, Indian and Turkish to halal versions of popular Aussie dishes. The same goes for Australia's other big cities, with popular eateries including Marrakech Restaurant for Moroccan in north Adelaide, Efendy in Sydney or Gazi, a halal-friendly Melbourne hot spot headed up by Australian celebrity chef George Calombaris. Travellers can also find halal-friendly accommodation in almost all of Australia's bigger cities. Try Rendezvous Hotel in central Melbourne or The Grace Hotel in Sydney where prayer mats, halal food and alcohol-free mini bars are provided upon request. And when it comes to touring around cities, Shebah is an all-female ride-hailing app that is a great way to travel safely.
7. South Korea
Ranked as the seventh-most halal-friendly destination for females, South Korea attracts travellers keen to sample culture, K-pop and Korean beauty finds. In the thriving capital of Seoul, visitors can find an increasing number of mosques, halal restaurants and prayer facilities. Moreover, solo female travellers can feel safe exploring South Korea – the country scored 96 out of 100 for safety in the MasterCard CrescentRating rankings.
The South Korean jimjilbang is a must-do. This authentic spa experience takes place in a gender-segregated bathhouse where travellers can relax in a soaking pool, unwind in a bathing area or take a nap in open sleeping lounges. When it comes to food, there are several places where travellers can find halal versions of the popular Korean barbecue. The Korean Tourism Board has introduced an initiative to certify hotels as Muslim-friendly. Try Itaewon for a good selection of places to stay, such as the Imperial Palace Boutique hotel, which serves a huge halal breakfast or the Hamilton Hotel where there's a halal restaurant, prayer mats in every room and travellers are within walking distance to Seoul's central mosque.
Singapore is a great pick – it is one of the world's safests cities, second only to Tokyo, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit's Safe Cities Index, making it female-friendly, even for solo travellers.
Sightseeing is easy thanks to Singapore's excellent public transport system and, when it comes to eating, travellers will be spoilt for choice. Singapore serves up a diverse spread of cuisines, from Asian to western to a fusion of both, and sourcing a halal option is never too difficult thanks to the city's sizeable Muslim population. Check in to the Park Royal Collection Marina Bay, which is well-known for serving one of the city's best halal buffets in its Aquamarine restaurant. By next year, the restaurant will be transformed into a wholly halal concept eatery called Peppermint. Hotel staff are super friendly and ready to provide guests with a list of nearby mosques, prayer facilities and other halal dining spots.
Steeped in culture and history, and offering a mix of natural landscapes and bustling cities, Japan is becoming an increasingly halal-friendly destination. In neon-infused Tokyo, travellers can indulge in retail therapy and get a taste of history. Check in to the Shangri-La Hotel Tokyo, which offers alcohol-free rooms, halal-trained chefs and gender-specific spa therapists, not to mention fantastic views over Tokyo’s towering skyscrapers. Muslim travellers will want to schedule a visit to Tokyo Camii, Japan’s largest mosque and an architectural masterpiece; it also has a separate prayer hall for women. For eating out, download the Halal Gourmet Japan app to help you find halal-friendly food in your vicinity. A visit to Japanese onsen, or hot springs, is a must-do. This can also be turned into a halal-friendly experience, with several of the facilities offering gender-separated baths or a private bathing room, as long as travellers book ahead of time.
As the world's largest Muslim country, it makes sense that Indonesia features as a leading destination for female halal travellers. Three provinces have officially been designated as halal tourist destinations by the country's tourism ministry – and among these is Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara. This island has a 90 per cent Muslim population and almost all of its hotels are halal-friendly. The call to prayer can be heard everywhere on the island and mosques and minarets dot the landscape. The oldest mosque is Masjid Bayan Beleq, which is also a popular tourist attraction.
At the heart of Lombok culture is its food, which is nearly always halal. Tuck into dishes such as fish satay, Babalung ribs or chicken with Lombok chilli sambal – note that the best halal restaurants can be found in the main city areas, rather than at resorts. Tour guides in this part of Indonesia are also typically Muslim, which means factoring in prayer break stops on day trips or excursions isn't an issue. So go ahead and plan a trip to Narmada Park, Pusuk Monkey Forest or the island's numerous waterfalls.
Over the past few years, Turkey has become a popular destination for Muslim travellers and the country has opened up several new halal resorts. In response, halal tourism visitors to Turkey have increased by 450 per cent over the past five years.
On the country's Mediterranean coast, Antalya is a popular pick with holidaymakers seeking halal-friendly beach stays. Several hotels offer female-only pool areas or beaches with no-photo policies so that women can sunbathe without worrying about men seeing them in their swimwear. The Bera Alanya Hotel, Wome Deluxe and Adin Beach Hotel are all female-friendly picks. If the balloon-filled landscapes of ancient Cappadocia in Central Anatolia have caught your attention, check in to the soon-to-open Ajwa Cappadocia, in the province of Nevsehir, where you can sleep in a luxury suite inside a historic cave. The hotel has halal food and alcohol-free minibars. For women keen on a city break, Istanbul is recommended. Sultan Ahmed Mosque is one of Turkey's most photographed attractions and the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum in Sultanahmet Square is well worth a visit. The Turkish capital also has a thriving food scene, with plenty of halal restaurants dotted across the city. When it comes to hotels, properties such as the Sura Hagia Sophia or the Grand Cevahir Hotels offer alcohol-free rooms, and gender-segregated spas and health clubs.
2. The UAE
The UAE ranks as the world’s second-best destination for female Muslim travellers, which is perhaps no surprise to travellers who are familiar with the emirates. In the UAE, halal food is found everywhere and travellers are always within easy reach of a mosque. In Abu Dhabi, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque dominates the city’s skyline and is one of the country’s most-visited attractions. In Sharjah, the entire emirate is alcohol-free and in Ras Al Khaimah, the Marjan Island Resort & Spa on the emirate’s first man-made archipelago is a popular beachside retreat for Muslim travellers thanks to its no-alcohol policy.
Several of the country's hotels also offer female-only floors. The Sofitel Dubai Downtown is the newest addition to this group, having transformed its 15th floor into a women-only zone. A glass door and private access key ensure privacy and each of the suites come with pampering treats such as Hermes toiletries, scented eye masks and lavender pillow masks, alongside stunning views of the Burj Khalifa. Ladies-only taxis are also available to get around in and there are women and children designated carriages on the Dubai metro.
Taking the crown when it comes to female-friendly halal destinations is Malaysia. The country ranked first in the MasterCard CrescentRating Muslim Women in Travel study, being commended for its halal food, availability of prayer facilities for women and single-gender pools, spas and salons. In capital Kuala Lumpur, popular attractions include Putra Mosque, the National Mosque of Malaysia and the Islamic Arts Museum, which is home to more than 7,000 Islamic artefacts.
Langkawi is one of the country’s most popular halal honeymoon destinations and perfect if you’re seeking crystal clear water surrounded by lush rainforests. Beachfront Desaru Coast in Johor is one of Malaysia’s new tourism hot spots and the newly opened Anantara Desaru Coast Resort and Villas is another good place to stay. Facing the South China Sea, the resort ensures privacy, and halal-friendly dining, with no pork or lard on any of the menus. It also has in-house prayer facilities, qibla signs and prayer mats in every room. Female guests seeking privacy can relax – all villas and residences come with private pools and the hotel is just a nine-minute drive from the nearest mosque.