Halal tourism is booming for hotels as Eid nears

Following a month of spiritual introspection, most families who head off on holiday during the Eid break are looking for something different to the western hospitality model.

Hotels and resorts across the region are confident occupancy rates will remain as high as the temperatures outside, thanks to the upcoming Eid al Fitr. Following a month of spiritual introspection, most families who head off on holiday during the Eid break are looking for something different to the western hospitality model. The growing halal tourism market concentrates on Islamic traditions such as halal food, no alcohol and separate facilities for men and women. And this market does not appeal to Muslims only.

Between 40 to 50 per cent of the guests at Al Jawhara Group of Hotels & Apartments in Dubai - the first halal-only hotels in the emirate - are from non-Muslim backgrounds, according to Hani Lashin, the group's general manager. "Non-Muslims also appreciate the high-quality service, comfort and safe environment," Mr Lashin said. "The halal tourism market is booming, which is evident in our occupancy rate - up around 17 per cent since 2009."

"We will spend Eid in Dubai, and Al Jawhara is perfect because it is Islamic," said Jihad Jamal Ajjawi, who lives in Abu Dhabi. "There are no bars, for example, which makes the stay comfortable." For those considering last-minute local deals, the UAE captures the essence of Eid despite the heat, according to Oliver Schmaeing, regional director of marketing at Hilton Worldwide. "Thanks to its reputation as a shopping paradise, the GCC is a tourism draw all year round, and we expect waves of regional visitors," said Mr Schmaeing.

Sanaz Ghahremani, the assistant marketing manager for Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates, said an occupancy rate of between 80 and 90 per cent is expected as the economy begins to recover. Special room rates are being offered at the Kempinksi to mark the soft opening of a new mall extension, and guests are expected to come mainly from the GCC. Hazem Harfoush, assistant director of sales and marketing for the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi, said it can be a challenge to attract visitors during the summer, but the UAE remains popular, especially among GCC residents looking for regional travel.

Most hotels will provide Eid al Fitr meals, including halal food. Park Hyatt Dubai is hosting a halal Eid buffet, and no alcohol will be served in the hotel on the first and second day of the religious holiday. Emirates Holidays, a travel firm, is catering to the growing religious trend by partnering with specific destinations, according to its senior vice president, John Felix. "All countries featured in the Emirates Holidays' Eid offers cater to these needs. Our brochure highlights particular [halal] aspects of a hotel, making it easier for guests selecting accommodation," Mr Felix said.

Self-catering accommodation, which allows guests to make their own food, enjoy the privacy of private lodging and avoid exposure to alcohol, is becoming increasingly popular, said Mansoor Pasha, the manager of retail and leisure at Al Futtaim Travel, which represents Thomas Cook in the region. "We offer various packages for those travelling abroad to places like Turkey, Egypt, Beirut, Jordan and Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim nation," said Mr Pasha.

"For inbound travel, Dubai is popular, but Abu Dhabi is picking up." UAE residents travelling overseas say it is a plus when locations accomodate Islamic traditions. Dr Samir Mohamed, who lives in Dubai, is heading to Basel, Switzerland, for Eid. "The weather is a draw, but there is also a big mosque and a good Muslim community, which helps keep the spirit of Eid alive," Dr Mohamed said. "Most locations provide halal options, as they realise it is beneficial for their business."