We can lead in halal tourism

The UAE is suited to develop the niche market in parallel with its more secular offerings

Muslim-friendly travel websites and apps have become more popular than ever. Mohd Fyrol / AFP
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Halal tourism is the fastest growing area of global tourism, according to a report prepared for the World Halal Travel Summit and Exhibition 2015, to be held in Abu Dhabi in October. The market is expected to surpass $230 billion (Dh844 bn) by 2020 as the global Muslim population grows and becomes more affluent. This presents a clear opportunity for the UAE to assert itself now in a niche market that is quickly moving towards the mainstream.

This country is already a popular tourism destination, attracting more than 11 million visitors of all backgrounds every year. Increasingly, Muslims around the Middle East and elsewhere are looking to the UAE as the ideal destination, because of its Islamic provenance and modern sensibilities. Sharjah, in particular, attracts a large share of the halal and family tourism industry because its hotels serve no alcohol and provide separate pools, gym and spa facilities for men and women.

As The National reported over the weekend, a Turkish tour company will launch its first dedicated "halal cruise" next month, without alcohol, pork products or gambling services on board but with prayer rooms and separate facilities for the two genders. With the UAE becoming an increasingly popular cruise destination – the Costa, MSC and Royal Caribbean companies will all offer several sailings in the Arabian Gulf over the winter, and several other lines will make stopovers in Dubai – it is surely time for such a family-friendly option to be offered here, too.

At the same time, the UAE is embracing its role as a world leader in the provision of Islamic finance, with Dubai aiming to become the “capital of the Islamic economy” by next year. Halal tourism and Islamic finance make perfect partners, with the latter funding the expansion of the former. Such a partnership could help entrench the UAE’s position as a premier destination that can compete with the powerhouses of the halal tourism industry such as Malaysia and Turkey.