Regional Partnerships & Industry Readiness Among Key Factors To Attract Muslim Tourists To Malaysia Post-Covid-19

Among the key steps towards establishing a more robust Muslim-Friendly landscape in Malaysia are regional cooperation, industry preparedness & an enabling environment

At the Halal In Travel Global Summit 2021, Director-General of Islamic Tourism Centre (ITC), Dato’ Dr. Mohmed Razip Haji Hasan said that tourism industry players should leverage on Malaysia’s diverse cultures & beautiful natural assets to appeal to the Muslim tourist market. (Picture: Lata Berkoh National Park Pahang. Source: Tourism Malaysia)

These were the main points brought up by Malaysian speakers invited to present at the Halal In Travel Global Summit (HITGS) 2021 held from 13 to 15 July. Being the inaugural edition of the event, HITGS 2021 placed a main goal on addressing the key challenges in serving the Muslim travel market for the post-COVID-19 world & witnessed participation of speakers & guests from all over the world throughout its duration

The Minister of Tourism, Arts & Culture Malaysia (MOTAC), Hon. Dato’ Sri Hajah Nancy Shukri, was 1 of several keynote speakers at the conference

She noted the potential of the Muslim travel market beyond COVID-19 especially within the ASEAN region. “As a firm believer in growth through partnerships & collaborations, I see that ASEAN, as a region, is 1 of the top Muslim-friendly destinations in the world. We, in the region, can take advantage of this to provide a seamless & memorable experience for Muslim tourists travelling in the region.”

“We can all benefit from attracting these travellers, who are looking for a worry-free experience when they travel across the region, hence Malaysia is looking forward to collaborating with our ASEAN neighbours on this,” she elaborated

In 2019, there were 160 million Muslim international arrivals globally. Although the pandemic had massively disrupted the growth, CrescentRating has projected that the market will return to its 2019 levels by 2023. The Minister was hopeful for a rebound in travel with destinations expediting COVID-19 vaccinations programmes & establishing travel protocols & guidelines on vaccination passports

With Malaysia being placed 1st in the Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2021 that was launched during HITGS 2021, she further urged tourism industry practitioners to give more attention to the Muslim tourist market. “I call upon our industry stakeholders & players to continue their efforts in ensuring the Muslim travel market is continuously tapped into, whilst also placing focus on developing & promoting the Islamic Tourism (IT) & Muslim-friendly travel & hospitality (MFTH) segments towards greater sustainability & national economic prosperity.”

Director-General of ITC, Dato’ Dr. Mohmed Razip Haji Hasan, who took part as a panel speaker in the session “Readying OIC Destinations for Halal Travel”, said that Muslim-Friendly Tourism & Hospitality concept embraced sustainability & inclusivity, & that industry players needed to be prepared to serve the market once travel borders reopened

“It is known that the Islamic tourism (IT) & Muslim-friendly tourism & hospitality (MFTH) segments are niche but lucrative ones. Tourism industry players are growing more interested & aware of the highly-sought potentials those segments hold,” he stated

He also noted that Malaysia’s success in tapping into the market was due to the deep understanding that industry players had & their response to serve the market with appropriate products & services. He said: “Since ITC’s establishment in 2009, we have played a crucial role by developing the capacity & capabilities of industry players in embracing the IT & MFTH concept — which ITC has reviewed & expanded recently by adding the element of hospitality — through capacity building, training, research, industry development & standards & certification. Among ITC’s key initiatives were the Muslim Friendly Accommodation Recognition (MFAR) programme & the Muslim-Friendly Tour Guide training.”

“1st introduced in 2019, MFAR is a marketing tool for hotels to assure their Muslim clientele‘s faith-based needs are well taken care of. It’s a way for hotels to show their clients that they are ready to welcome more Muslim travellers, both domestic & local to their premises once tourism is allowed again in Malaysia,” he explained. Currently, 44 hotels in Malaysia have been recognised as Muslim-friendly under the MFAR programme & have been widely commended by their respective Muslim guests

“ITC has also recertified tourist guides as Muslim-friendly under the refresher course for the Muslim-friendly Tourist Guide programme,” he said. The programme sought to equip tour guides with an understanding of Muslim tourists’ faith-based needs & requirements during their travels

He concluded that Malaysia was in a prime position to attract Muslim tourists: “Besides Muslim-friendly products, services & facilities, Malaysia offers Muslim visitors the unique experience of exploring a country of multiple races, ethnicities & cultures, as well as beautiful natural assets in a harmonious, safe & inclusive environment. Tourism industry players have plenty of opportunities to leverage on this & use our existing attractions to appeal to the Muslim tourist market.”

Furthermore, in the Malay language session of HITGS 2021, “Peranan & Hala Tuju Penggiat Industri Terhadap Pembangunan Pelancongan Mesra-Muslim” (“The Role & Direction of Industry Players Towards the Development of Muslim-friendly Tourism”), panellists highlighted the way forward to strengthen IT & MFTH

The panel of speakers for this session were Mr. Uzaidi Udanis, President of Malaysia Inbound Tourism Association (MITA); Mr. Ahmad Faizal Iskandar, Director of Sales at Sunway Hotels Kuala Lumpur; & Mr. Suhaimi Abdul Ghafer, Founder of IslamiCruise

Moderator Assoc. Prof. Dr. Mohamad Hafiz Hanafiah, Deputy Dean, Faculty of Hotel & Tourism Management at Universiti Teknologi MARA & member of ITC Board of Trustees, concluded that more holistic approaches were required to strengthen the IT &MFTH space

He said: “Moving forward the Islamic Tourism & Muslim-Friendly Tourism & Hospitality agenda would require enablers such as the formulation of a policy on the administration of Muslim-friendly accommodations, a legal framework on the management of Muslim-friendly accommodations & legal protection for the involvement of industry players in the Muslim-friendly travel & hotel sectors. That will enable better participation & greater confidence across the sector in this niche segment of tourism.”

HITGS is set to return in 2022, the tentative dates being 31 May to 2 June

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