LOND|ON: Despite the widespread disruption to the tourism industry caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the rapidly growing halal sector could be set for a bumper year, experts have told Arab News.
The global tourism industry was one of the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic — in November last year, the UN estimated it had lost $4 trillion in revenue over two years.
But 2022 could represent a step-change for the industry as borders reopen and vaccine rollouts kick in — particularly for destinations catering to the needs of Muslim travelers.
Ufuk Seçgin, chief marketing officer at HalalBooking, told Arab News that there is “pent up” demand for travel after two long years of pandemic-related restrictions.
His company, which directs travelers to halal-friendly accommodation, has actually experienced growth since April 2021 “despite all of the turmoil,” said Seçgin.
“We saw an excellent recovery,” he added. “We don’t have any reason to believe that this trend won’t continue.”
Fueling this growth, he said, is the adaptation that both customers and providers — such as airlines and hotels — have made to their travel arrangements.
“Customers are now getting more used to the environment. We have to live with the virus. Yes there will be some travel restrictions and some uncertainty — things can change, as we’ve seen now with omicron,” Seçgin added.
But this constant threat of disruption means that providers are now offering flexible refunds or adjustments to trips should they be required.
Because of this, “people have got confidence, they’ve got understanding that even if a trip is canceled they’ll be able to access full refunds,” said Seçgin.
“A lot of people still haven’t traveled for the last two years so they’re like, ‘OK, 2022 has to be the year’.”
Among the potential beneficiaries of this travel boom, said Seçgin, is Saudi Arabia, which has been investing heavily in its own tourism industry in recent years.
He added that during a recent visit to the Kingdom, he saw the potential in its tourism industry after managing to carry out Umrah, visit Jeddah for snorkeling and explore AlUla’s historical sites all in one trip.
Soumaya Hamdi, founder of the Halal Travel Guide, told Arab News: “One of the trends that we’re going to start seeing in 2022 is that non-conventional locations (for halal travel) are going to start to be more interested in attracting Muslim travelers.”
She said both the New York and Barbados tourist boards had already contacted her for advice on attracting more diverse tourists.
They “want to know how to speak to Muslim travelers,” she added. “That’s one of the key trends we’re going to see going forward: This recognition that halal tourism is here to stay.”
Hamdi echoed Seçgin’s thoughts on how the travel industry and its customers have adapted to the pandemic and its nuances.
“Some countries are making it a requirement that you have to have COVID-19 travel insurance,” she said.
“Jordan, for example, requires you to have travel insurance that covers you for COVID-19-related medical expenses before you enter the country.”
This, she said, “means there are lots of good offers now. At the start of the pandemic this kind of thing wasn’t available, but now they have to offer it.”
These measures have built consumer confidence and added to the wider tourism industry’s resilience to pandemic-related disruption.
Hamdi said her company, which runs halal trips to non-conventional locations, “offers a full service in terms of accommodation, activities and food. When consumers book with us, they know their payment is protected.” She added: “For travel companies, we have to be able to offer consumers that confidence.”