Travel Unpacked: Top halal-friendly destinations revealed and flydubai turns 15

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

Malaysia ranks as one of the best places for Muslim travellers in the Mastercard-Crescentrating Global Muslim Travel Index 2024. EPA
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The most visited tourist site in Iceland has reopened to visitors after being closed following the country's fifth volcanic eruption since December. In London, there's a new luxury hotel in one of the capital's most historic squares and in the holiday hotspot of Bali, a new Anantara hotel is making its way to the waterfront.

Muslim travellers seeking destination inspiration could look to Malaysia and Indonesia, as the destinations ranked first in the Mastercard-Crescentrating Global Muslim Travel Index 2024, which also placed Saudi Arabia and the UAE in top positions.

And aviation fans should keep their eyes on the sky to spot a newly launched flydubai livery, designed to celebrated 15 years of flying for the sister airline of Dubai's Emirates.

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

Saudi Arabia and UAE rank among world’s best destinations for Muslim travellers

South-East Asia leads the way for destinations for Muslim travellers in the 2024 Mastercard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index.

Indonesia and Malaysia held their title as the top destinations in the annual rankings with Saudi Arabia taking third place, followed by Turkey and then the UAE.

Analysing criteria for the changing needs of Muslim travellers such as availability of halal food, prayer facilities and appropriate accommodation, the ranking has been extended this year to also consider facilities and services for Muslim travellers with disabilities and the best places for female Muslim travellers.

With a joint score of 76 out of 100, Indonesia and Malaysia both ranked highly for ease of entry and quality of tourism infrastructure for Muslim and non-Muslim travellers.

Saudi Arabia improved its score by two points from last year, with a total of 74, while Turkey moved up one position scoring 73, and the UAE ranked fifth winning points for its air connectivity, easy availability of halal food and how the destination blends contemporary luxury with traditional Islamic culture.

When it comes to non-Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) countries, Singapore topped the list for the ninth year, followed by the UK and Taiwan.

According to the report, the Muslim travel market is set to increase substantially this year, with global international arrivals potentially reaching up to 168 million, which exceeds pre-pandemic levels by five per cent. This is largely due to demographic and economic expansion, cultural and halal tourism developments.

Technology is also playing a significant role with advancements allowing for more personalised travel experiences, such as apps that locate Halal food outlets, offer Qibla directions or list prayer timings. Artificial intelligence also helps to further customise travel experiences making travel logistics simpler while adhering to faith traditions.

The highest-ranking destinations for Muslim women are also predominantly in South-East Asia, with Malaysia and Indonesia leading the way, followed by Qatar, Brunei and the Maldives. These places continue to attract female travellers thanks to having a focus on safety and a lack of faith-based restrictions for women.

Anantara to open luxury waterfront hotel on Bali’s Seseh Beach

Travellers heading to Bali will soon have a new luxury resort to consider staying at as Anantara Dragon Seseh Bali Resort is opening as the first beachfront resort on Seseh Beach.

The third hotel for the Minor brand in Indonesia’s most-visited island, the five-star property will be set on the black volcanic shores of Seseh, to the north-west of Seminyak.

Located an hour from Ngurah Rai International Airport, the luxury resort draws inspiration from the dragon-like guardian Barong, a prominent character in Balinese mythology, and the hotel blends luxury with a touch of fantasy.

With 216 rooms and suites set beside the Indian Ocean, travellers can enjoy pristine sand and world-class surfing. The Anantara Spa will offer yoga on the beach and meditation sessions and three restaurants including a specialty Japanese eatery are part of the plans.

“Global travellers cannot get enough of Bali as arrivals grow well past pre-pandemic levels,” said Dillip Rajakarier, chief executive of Minor Hotels.

The hotel joins sister properties Anantara Uluwatu Bali Resort on the island’s southern tip, and Anantara Ubud Bali Resort, due to open in September amid rice fields and tropical jungle.

Iceland reopens Blue Lagoon amid ongoing volcanic eruption

Iceland’s most popular tourist attraction has reopened to visitors after closing following a volcanic eruption.

The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa in the country's south-west reopened to visitors on Sunday, four days after it closed due to the eruption in the Sundhnukagigar area.

The eruption in the Reykjanes Peninsula is ongoing, but authorities have deemed activity to be stable. According to those in charge of the country's most-visited geothermal pool, volcanic activity is now “at a safe distance from Blue Lagoon”.

“The main factor that might influence safety now is air quality since lava flow is not close to our facilities,” the tourist site said.

Hundreds of tourists bathed in the lagoon on Monday, with views of the erupting crater in the background. Cafes and hotels at the hot spot have also reopened with the exception of Moss, the Blue Lagoon's Michelin-starred restaurant, which will reopen on Wednesday.

New gas sensors have recently been erected at the site to enhance the monitoring of air quality.

Last week's volcanic eruption is the fifth in the region since December and the most powerful to date. Iceland reports regular eruptions. In 2019, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted, spewing huge clouds of ash into the atmosphere, and leading to airspace closures across Europe.

Flydubai marks 15 years of flights with special anniversary livery

Flydubai is celebrating 15 years of flying with a special anniversary livery.

The airline first took to the skies on June 1, 2009, with the inaugural Flight FZ 157 to Beirut. Since then, the Dubai airline has flown to 125 different destinations in 58 countries, and carried more than 100 million passengers.

With a fleet of 87 Boeing aircraft, flydubai is celebrating its milestone achievement with a special anniversary livery on one of its Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed, chief executive and founder of the Emirates Group, took to X to celebrate the achievements of flydubai, sister airline of Emirates.

“Flydubai has become a key player in the aviation industry in the UAE and in the region, and a major contributor to Dubai’s socio-economic development,” wrote Sheikh Ahmed on the social media platform.

“Looking to the future, I am confident of the further growth and success of the airline in line with Dubai Government’s efforts to further enhance Dubai’s position as a leading global aviation hub.”

Some of the flydubai's newest destinations include four cities in Europe, namely Basel, Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius. The airline has also been instrumental in connecting the UAE with under served destinations, and has launched more than 90 routes that did not previously have direct air links to Dubai.

Flydubai was the first airline from the UAE to fly to Gan International Airport in the south of the Maldives, and the first to operate direct flight between the UAE and Sri Lanka's Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport. It also operated the first direct flight from Dubai to Saudi Arabia's newest Red Sea destination on the kingdom's west coast, and to the historic AlUla region.

Mandarin Oriental opens two capital hotels in London and Muscat

Travellers heading to London this summer can now book a stay in the city's newest luxury hotel, the Mandarin Oriental Mayfair on historic Hanover Square. Meanwhile, travellers heading to Oman can check in at Mandarin Oriental, Muscat, which also opens its doors on Monday.

The first new build hotel in Mayfair in more than a decade, the five-star London property is a sister hotel to the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, just a 15-minute drive away.

With 50 guestrooms and suites plus 77 private residences, Mandarin Oriental Mayfair is being billed as one of London's most luxurious hotels, with opening rates starting from Dh4,899.

Located in one of London's most storied squares, the Vierendeel structured building is one of the first of its kind in the UK and offers wide internal spaces and an elegant contemporary townscape facade created from burnt red bricks inspired by the surrounding Georgian terraces. Interiors blend the hotel group's Asian heritage with other elements, including haute couture-inspired fabrics, hand-painted de Gournay wallpaper and flowering magnolia patterns, nodding to the trees found in Hanover Square.

Set to attract culinary curious tourists, the hotel will also be home to acclaimed Chef Akira Back's London restaurant debut. Later this year, ABar Rooftop will open with long-reaching views of the London skyline. Wellness is also on the menu at the hotel in the UK capital with The Spa at Mandarin Oriental Mayfair offering biohacking treatments, result-driven therapies and a 25-metre swimming pool.

In Oman, Mandarin Oriental Muscat welcomes guests with opening rates from Dh1,913. Marking the hotel group's debut in the sultanate, the luxury retreat has views over the Arabian Sea on one side and of the Hajar Mountains on the other from its seat in Shatti Al-Qurum.

As well as bringing Mandarin Oriental’s renowned service to Oman, the hotel's design pays tribute to the surrounding region with locally sourced natural materials, including Desert Rose marble and Ashwood. Five restaurants and lounges offer a wealth of dining including signature restaurant Essenza, with an Italian-inspired menu. The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Muscat blends the company's Asian-inspired treatments with local healing traditions and treatment rooms with sea views, plus a traditional hammam.

Updated: June 03, 2024, 3:00 PM