Travel Unpacked: Hong Kong boosts halal-friendly options and Maldives eyes solo travellers

The National rounds up the most interesting tourism news you might have missed

Hong Kong is on a mission to upgrade its travel offerings for Muslim tourists. Photo: Hong Kong Tourist Board
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With solo travel a notable trend in 2024, one resort in the Maldives is rolling out the red carpet for single travellers in July. Meanwhile, Hong Kong took its participation in the Arabian Travel Market to announce that it is planning to bounce back from pandemic lockdown with renewed efforts to attract Muslim holidaymakers.

And in the US, one of the country's most-visited theme parks has revealed the opening date of its hottest summer attraction.

Here's a round-up of recent travel and tourism news – in case you missed it.

July is solo travel month for this luxury Maldives resort

Solo travellers seeking an island escape take note, one Maldivian resort is making July all about individuals.

Nova Maldives is tapping into the growing trend of solo travel from the GCC region by organising a host of experiences at the Indian Ocean Resort. Moving away from the Maldives being seen as a classic destination for honeymooners and couples, Nova Maldives' July activities have been tailored to appeal to travellers exploring solo. Discounted rates are also on the cards for those travelling on their own, with up to 45 per cent off and rates starting from Dh1,795 ($488) per person per night.

Guests will be able to join like-minded others in beachside football and volleyball matches, while those interested in discovering the Indian Ocean can head off on sunset fishing expeditions or swim with whale sharks and sea-loving companions. Snorkelling and diving excursions are also available for solo travellers, who can join group expeditions set up to foster what the hotel is billing as its “Nova community”.

Guests looking for a transformative trip can tap into authentic Maldivian culture with immersive painting sessions that are led by local artists, or traditional cooking classes run by Maldivian chefs. Yoga, meditation and tailored spa treatments offer solo travellers a chance to embrace the solace of their journey.

“Our curated experiences for solo travellers are personalised considering their individual interests,” said Althaf Mohamed Ali, chief operating officer at Pulse Hotels & Resorts. “Nova has been designed for solo or group travel, and couples, seeking a unique and rejuvenating experience. Nestled on a 100 per cent natural island, it offers the perfect blend of privacy and comfort with the option for a range of once-in-a-lifetime group activities, which bring together travellers from all over the world.”

Located on the South Ari Atoll, Nova Maldives aims to foster connections between guests over food and drinks via communal dining tables in Soul Kitchen and sunset sessions at Wink and Solis where travellers can gather and mingle with other like-minded guests, or simply enjoy watching the Sun set over the island.

Hong Kong Tourism on a mission to offer halal-friendly holidays

Hong Kong is on a mission to make the destination more welcoming for Muslim travellers. That's according to Dane Cheng, executive director of Hong Kong Tourism Board, who spoke to The National on the sidelines of the 2024 Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.

As one of the destinations that was closed to tourists for the longest during the Covid-19 pandemic, Hong Kong has been open to visitors without any quarantine requirements only since March last year. And as tourist numbers return to Hong Kong, there's a focus on evolving its attractions to more visitors, including travellers from the GCC and to the luxury market.

“We've seen our GCC visitor numbers returning at about 45 per cent, which is not great, but we see potential,” said Cheng.

“In the past, the number of tourists from this part of the world hasn't been large. From the whole of the GCC, we were recording around 50,000 visitors a year. But now we can see that visitors who have typically favoured Europe and going West, are showing interest in going eastbound. They're going to Asia to explore places like Bangkok, Thailand and Singapore, but believe Hong Kong offers a great location for them to come, not least because of the flight connectivity.”

Emirates and the Hong Kong Tourism Board signed an agreement during the Arabian Travel Market to work together to boost inbound tourism into Hong Kong from key target markets in the Middle East and Europe. The Dubai airline offers 21 weekly flights connecting the destinations. Cathay Pacific also offers seven weekly flights, while Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways also fly from the GCC to Hong Kong. The destination is visa-free for GCC travellers and offers other perks.

“We're a very small city with a good public transport network, English is widely spoken and it's very safe,” said Cheng. “We have a lot to offer in terms of East meets West, but we need to up the game in terms of being Muslim-friendly. We need more halal restaurants and other facilities, but we're now on top of this.”

Having drafted in consultants to educate hoteliers, restaurant owners and others in the tourism industry about providing halal facilities for travellers, Hong Kong is hoping that the pay-off will come via boosted visitor numbers.

“We would like to attract more of the entire Muslim travel market, not just those from the GCC, but the global market as the travellers are young, they're modern. We hope they will come to Hong Kong, and then perhaps venture further into mainland China and the Greater Bay Area.”

The destination is also presenting a new horizon of luxury experiences as part of its GCC travel initiatives via its Travel in Luxe campaign. This promotes cultural encounters through curator-led museum tours, stylish experiences including helicopter tours and luxury shopping trips and family travel via VIP experiences at attractions such as Hong Kong and Ocean Park. And tourists who do decide to make the trip can explore some fascinating attractions.

“Hong Kong is exciting and it also has a few things that were enhanced in a big way during the country's lockdown,” said Cheng.

“Number one is the art and culture scene, including a new area called the West Kowloon Cultural District, which has two excellent museums, the Mplus Museum which has the largest collection of modern art from China; and the first Palace Museum outside of China that displays many never-seen-before items. We also have new high-speed trains from China – the fastest in the world – as well as a bustling calendar of events including the Rugby Sevens, which many people say is the most entertaining edition of the event.

“What makes Hong Kong special is also the neighbourhoods here, they're not artificial, they are real neighbourhoods that we promote. And people can visit and see old buildings and stores that have been around for centuries, first under British Colonial influence and also under Chinese influence. And then we also have modern new buildings, and that remix of Hong Kong is what makes it interesting.”

Walt Disney World Resort's Tiana's Bayou Adventure to open in June

Walt Disney World Resort in Florida will open its latest ride next month.

Tiana's Bayou Adventure is replacing the long-running Splash Mountain attraction at Magic Kingdom park that was closed in 2023.

The new Princess and the Frog-themed ride promises to be a colourful, Mardi-Gras inspired attraction with visitors welcome to ride on it from June 28.

Splash Mountain had a long run at the world-renowned theme park since it opened in 1989. Popular for its five-storey plunge, the ride garnered negative attention thanks to the controversial Song of the South film it was inspired by. The 1946 film has been called out for its white-centred depiction of slavery and racial stereotypes.

The ride's popular log-flume drop will remain in Disney's new attraction, but everything else is being overhauled. Picking up after the events of the Walt Disney Animation Studios film The Princess and the Frog ends, the ride takes visitors on a journey with New Orleans's resident Princess Tiana through the bayou as she prepares to host a Mardi Gras party. New audio-animatronics will feature many of the 2009 film's original voice actors reprising their roles including Anika Noni Rose as Princess Tiana, Bruno Campos as Prince Naveen, Jenifer Lewis as Mama Odie and Michael-Leon Wooley as Louis.

Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will feature original music and familiar tunes from the film, as well as newly created animal characters that will put on a showcase featuring music authentic to the region of New Orleans. This will be complemented by new music created exclusively for the ride from PJ Morton of Maroon 5, and Jazz-legend Terence Blanchard.

Visitors lining up for the ride will enjoy the scent of frying beignets – a staple in New Orleans' French Quarter – and will be able to make use of their waiting time by checking out artwork from New Orleans' artists Malaika Favorite and Sharika Mahdi.

Updated: May 13, 2024, 2:03 PM