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From its birth in the inhospitable deserts of Saudi Arabia, Islam has always placed hospitality at the centre its faith and looking after guests at the heart of its philosophy. Now as the population of Muslim travellers grows, hotels are recognising them as a significant market and adapting to accommodate them.

Globally the Muslim population is projected to be 2.2 billion by 2030, an increase of 26% from 1.7 billion in 2014. Almost 60% live in Asia, especially Indonesia which is the world’s most populous Muslim country. It’s no surprise that the travel industry increasingly recognises Muslim travellers as a major specialist sector.

In general, Muslim consumers look for products and services that are in tune with their faith, so Islam-friendly hotels and restaurants serving halal food benefit from the growth of this population.

A study by MasterCard and Islamic travel specialist CrescentRating estimates that in 2014, the Muslim travel and hospitality market has reached US$145 billion. The world’s Muslim population will grow at about twice the rate of the non-Muslim population over the next two decades, according to the International Monetary Fund.

In travel alone, over 100 million Muslims account for 10% of the world tourism economy, and they are expected to rise to 150 million by 2020, spending a projected US$200 billion. “Muslim travel will continue to be one of the fastest growing travel sectors in the world,” says the report.

Visitors from the Middle East to Asia are also high spenders and stay for longer periods than other travellers, according to a 2013 report by Travel Trade Gazette.

For the fifth year in a row, MasterCard and CrescentRating put Malaysia as the top scorer in their Global Muslim Travel Index in 2014, with Indonesia at number six and Brunei at 10.

Elsewhere within Asia, the report placed Singapore and Thailand as the top two among non-Islamic countries for hosting Muslim travellers, and noted that Japan has also made great strides to welcome this group.

The demographic of Muslims is also changing, as it is for other faiths. Muslim consumers today are likely to be younger, more tech savvy, and interested in convenience, choice and quality, but look for products and services that fit in with their beliefs.As Muslim travellers become more affluent, they are prepared to pay for premium food, while travel has given them a taste for international cuisine, too.

One priority among Muslim travellers is halal food, where animals are slaughtered according to established rules, and no pork, lard or alcohol is involved in the cooking. Singapore is a leading light among non-Islamic countries, having over 10,000 halal-certified food outlets, while Malaysia has the possibility of becoming ASEAN’s halal trading hub, according to its Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Abdul Razak.2

While hardly a "trend", halal food is growing fast, and the Economist Intelligence Unit forecasts that by 2030, the global halal market will reach US$10 trillion from US$1 trillion in 2014. Malaysian billionaire Halim Saad has called halal “the biggest and the oldest brand in the world”.

As halal food is also associated with strict standards in food care, many non-Muslims look to it as a stamp of quality, and Asia-Pacific Food Industry magazine calls halal “the new mainstream”.Just as vegetarian food is catching on with non-vegetarians, and gluten-free bread is enjoyed by health-conscious diners, halal food is extending its appeal beyond the people it was first intended for.

“Halal certification gives companies a competitive edge, so they can sell to a larger pool of consumers and can also export to more countries in the region,” says Leong Lai Peng, Senior Lecturer in Food Science and Technology in Singapore.

Last year, the Archipelago hotel group in Indonesia teamed up with Malaysia’s LagiSatu hotel search website which launched the Salam Standard, certifying Islam-friendly hotels, to make it easier for Muslims travelling to the country with confidence.4

So far, over 10,000 hotels have already signed up for Salam Standard accreditation, including AccorHotels, Mövenpick Hotels and Resorts, Rotana Hotels and Resorts, Anantara Hotels and Resorts, Tauzia Hotel Management, and Berjaya Hotels and Resorts.

As Muslim travellers are forecast to make up fully one quarter of global travel expenditure, more hotels will doubtlessly follow.

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