Cultural heritage to make Turkey a haven for halal tourism

ÖZGE BULUR @ozgeozcelkk
Cultural heritage to make Turkey a haven for halal tourism

Where there is demand, there is supply. A growing tourism sector has created a new segment within the expectations of Muslim customers. Sector representatives will meet in Istanbul in 2016 to discuss halal tourism concepts

Being one of the fastest growing markets in the world, the Muslim-friendly halal turism offers alcohol- and pork-free services, single-sex spa opportunities, segregated sports centers, tour guides with a robust knowledge of Islamic doctrines, and prayer rooms at facilities. Although the first incidents of halal tourism date back to 1996, it has started to grow in real terms only since 2006. Some Muslims prefer travelling to places where it will be easy for them to uphold daily Islamic duties. Despite global instabilities and newly surfaced threats, the industry's growth has been steadfast. The growing demand in the last few years pushed tourism sector to increase supply.

Specifically since 2006, the halal industry has been accessing "a young, increasingly wealthy, travel hungry and globalized family demographic" an overview prepared by Dinar Standard Growth Strategy Research and Advisory as part of The World Halal Travel Summit and Exhibition (WHTS15) in the United Arab Emirates in 2015 reveals. What is more, halal tourists travel with more family members, stay for a longer period and ultimately spend more money than any other population.

For the first time in Turkey, the concept of halal tourism will be discussed in length at the annual Halal Tourism Conference. Initiated by CM Media and Tur Media and sponsored by the Culture and Tourism Ministry and Turkish Airlines (THY), the 2nd International Halal Tourism Conference will be held in İstanbul at the Haliç Congress Center from March 21 to March 23, 2016. The three-day conference aims to convene representatives from international tour agencies, tour operators, restaurants, hotels and airlines to discuss ways to improve the halal industry.

In the press meeting in Istanbul this week, Akın Arıkan, vice president of Istanbul-based tourism company Tura, defined the goal of the upcoming conference saying: "Our aim with this conference is to standardize and enhance Muslim-friendly tourism market." Arıkan added: "This conference is a big opportunity for Turkey, which has a big historic heritage and values."

According to MasterCard-Crescent Rating Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2015 data, which is regarded as the most comprehensive research that has been conducted on the sector, the global halal tourism market totaled $150 billion and experienced 14 percent growth in 2014 with 108 million Muslim travelers representing 10 percent of the global travel economy. Moreover, this number is predicted to grow to $200 billion by 2020.

Underlining the fact that many countries do not have a cultural history to set a good stage for halal tourism, London-based event management company CM Media's CEO Bilal Domah said "Turkey has an extremely strong economy and has rich Islamic cultural heritage for hundreds of years." There are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, which equates to one-third of the global population. The European market has 50 million Muslims. According to Domah, the young demography of the world Muslim population in the world bodes well for halal tourism since youth travel more. Additionally, travelling preferences of Muslims have changed recently; apart from travels for the hajj and umrah, Muslims do take trips now to European countries with halal tourism opportunities.

The general manager of Evratur, Cüneyt Çetin, also said that Turkey has potential to be the leader of halal tourism, and said "Turkey comes second in halal tourism list right now following Malaysia. If Turkey makes the right investments and realizes the halal certification process, I believe it will be the leader of the sector and will take a $45 billion share from the market."

Speaking to Daily Sabah, Domah said that the "Halal Tourism Conference focuses not so much on the quantity but the quality. Turkey has been chosen because it has many economic opportunities as well as its cultural heritage." Unlike many other countries that offer a good variety of opportunities for halal industry, Turkey is much more functional as "it is strategically well-placed to build a bridge between the east and the west," Domah added.

As a result of mutual agreement between Turkey and the Arab Tourism League, the halal tourism conference was postponed to March 21 to March 23, 2016. Arıkan said that Arab tourism ministers and members of the Arab League are willing to come to Turkey to attend the conference. As Arab Tourism Organization Chairman Prince Bandar al-Fuhaid said, the former schedule of the conference in early December, is when the umrah season begins. That is why the conference is now planned to be held a few months later.

Tourism experts in halal tourism market are expected to come together for this conference in order to meet with potential customers and decision-makers who wish to establish relations and communications. Around 25 international speakers, more than 60 tour operators and travel agencies, 150 hotels with halal concept and its suppliers from 30 different countries, 1,200 international delegates and thousands of visitors are expected to participate in this multi-purpose conference. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is also expected to attend the conference as the guest of honor.

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