Once only seen as a niche market of travellers visiting Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, halal tourism is now one of the fastest growing sectors of the global travel industry, with visitor spending predicted to reach US$220 billion (Dh807.4bn) by 2020. In this year's Mastercard Crescent Rating Global Muslim Travel Index, Malaysia topped the list as the world's best overall halal travel destination, followed closely by the UAE and then Indonesia. The ranking is – somewhat unsurprisingly – dominated by countries that are part of the Saudi-based 57 member-state Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Singapore managed to make it into the top 10, and in doing so leads a pack of non-OIC countries currently rolling out the red carpet to Muslim travellers. We detail some of halal-travel's rising stars.
Sightseeing in South Korea
Citing a 33 per cent rise in Muslim visitors last year, the Korea Tourism Organisation has pushed for an increased number of mosques, halal eateries and airport prayer facilities. Rolling countryside, ancient monuments, traditional fishing villages and high-tech cities are among the country's draws and a nine-day tour with Serendipity Travel takes in many of the highlights from a halal-friendly vantage point. Journey from the capital, Seoul, to the craters of Jeju Island and on to Busan's cliffs and Korea's ancient capital of Gyeongju. Head to Seoraksan National Park with its oddly shaped cliffs and unusual wildlife – don't miss the overhead cable car journey. With scheduled prayer breaks and halal meals, Muslim travellers can enjoy getting under the skin of South Korea without worrying about day-to-day religious obligations.
Prices for the tour start at Dh19,585 per person, based on four people per group.
South African exploration
As halal travel gains traction in South Africa, the choice of Muslim-orientated itineraries is increasing. Islamic Travel and Tours' Spectacular South Africa nine-day adventure explores the country's dramatic landscapes, tumultuous history and epic wildlife. Get to grips with history in Johannesburg, visiting the Apartheid Museum and Vilakazi Street – the latter was home to Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Stop for prayers in one of the local mosques as you visit Jo'Burg's thriving Muslim communities. Head east to Kruger National Park for a safari guaranteeing big-game sightings, followed by a night in the farming town of Hazyview. On to Cape Town where Table Mountain, stunning beaches and a cosmopolitan vibe await. Visit the Cape Malay Muslim community in Bo-Kaap, learn more about the country's first Muslim settlers and stop at the oldest mosque in the country, dating back an impressive 200 years.
Spectacular South Africa tour prices start at 22,110 South African Rand (Dh6,120) per adult, including taxes.
Island-hopping in Thailand
Sweeping beaches, towering palms and turquoise waters set to a backdrop of tropical jungle, southern Thailand's coasts make for the perfect halal-friendly, island-hopping exploration. Serendipity Travel's Southern Islands tour offers a luxury-steeped exploration of Phuket, Yao Noi and Krabi. Starting in the country's longest island, bed-down in Phuket's Bell Pool Villas where you'll have a private pool, round-the-clock butler service and lavish in-villa halal dining. Explore Patong Beach, Karon Viewpoint and Promthep Cape before heading to the predominantly Muslim isle of Koh Yao Noi, and the eco-friendly Six Senses Resort. Enjoy expansive views over Phang Nga Bay in a villa shrouded in privacy under a tropical canopy. Board a traditional longboat and sail around the archipelago, stopping at Hong Island and visiting Koh Panyi – a Muslim floating township where you can have lunch and pray with the locals. End your island discovery in Krabi at Phulay Bay, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve and the perfect place to watch the sun set on your Thai adventure.
Prices start from Dh17,355 per person, based on two people travelling.
Discovering tradition in Japan
The Japanese tourism board has already surpassed its target of 20 million Muslim visitors by 2020, cementing the land of the rising sun as one of halal travel's newest hotspots, and the second edition of Tokyo's Modest Fashion Show this November is set to propel this image further. Omakase offers Muslim-friendly guided experiences in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Sapporo and tours can be crafted to include unique experiences like geisha ceremonies or manga drawing. The Tokyo discovery tour scratches the surface of Japan's ever-moving capital with an exploration of Asakusa's traditions including a visit to Sensoji Temple, where you'll watch people perform the Japanese version of ablution before prayer. In the city with the most Michelin-stars in the world, dining out is always going to be a treat – take your pick from a variety of alcohol-free, halal sushi bars and wagyu restaurants. Next on the visit list is the famous scramble outside Shibuya Station before a visit to Tokyo Camii, the largest mosque in the country and a truly beautiful building.
Prices for discovery tours start from 11,000 yen (Dh360) per person, not including transport.
The full English
London, Britain's capital and one of the world's most visited cities, has endless appeal. With the UK coming in at number three on the Global Muslim Travel Index, there's plenty of halal-friendly fun to be had in the big smoke. Book a tailor-made journey in the capital with Muslim History Tours where you can opt to stay at La Suite West, a luxury boutique hotel right beside Hyde Park where rooms are alcohol free and you can tuck into a full-halal English breakfast each morning. Head off on an afternoon tea cruise on the River Thames, enjoy an open-top bus tour taking in landmarks like Tower Bridge and Big Ben, as well as lesser-known sights such as London's first (and newly discovered) mosque. Trips can be customised to suit your group and will always include professional tour guides and private transfers.
Tailor-made four day itineraries start from £2,600 (Dh14,040) per person.
Explore dormant volcanoes, ride on high-speed trains or hit the capital where towering skyscrapers and the upscale shopping of Taipei await. The Taiwan Tourism Bureau has created a dedicated site geared towards Muslim travellers, which lists mosque locations, halal restaurants and recommended hotels. Lokopoko Travel offers a five-day tour that takes in some of the country's best spots with highlights including a fruit picking experience on a leisure farm, a visit to Taichung Mosque and family-friendly shopping at Taichung night market. Don't miss the 4-kilometre Maokong Gondola cable car in the heart of the capital where you can go soaring through the air. Stop for prayers at Taipei Grand Mosque and end your journey on a literal high with a visit to Taipei 101 – the country's tallest building. The company ensures halal food is available throughout the tour and books only Muslim-friendly accommodation.
Prices start from about Dh1,990 per person, plus service fees.
A Hong Kong gateway
Hong Kong, a relative newcomer on the halal travel circuit, is a fast-paced gateway to China where towering glass structures sit beside tropical greenery amid a fusion of cultures. The Four Seasons Hong Kong offers rooms equipped with prayer mats, prayer time schedules and ablution facilities, and chefs in the all-day dining restaurant are trained to prepare halal dishes. Book the Family Itinerary to experience the best of the city in just three days. Ride the world's longest outdoor escalator system, take the kids to Hong Kong Zoo and pay a visit to Ocean Park's pandas and giant salamanders – many of the kiosks here are halal-certified so snacking isn't a problem. Board the ferry from Victoria Harbour to Tsim Sha Tsui where you can visit the Hong Kong Science Museum then stop for prayers at Kowloon Mosque. Enjoy dinner at Ma's Restaurant – try the signature halal beef pancakes – and round things off with an afternoon of shopping at IFC mall, handily connected to the hotel.
Rates at The Four Seasons start from HKD5,060 (Dh2,378) and prices for the family itinerary are customised on request.