UNTAPPED POTENTIAL: Despite Cape Town’s large Muslim population, there’s a gulf in awareness when it comes to tailored products for this market segment, particularly when it comes to hotels and restaurants. Picture: Ross Jansen
For a while now we have been talking about the opportunity Muslim-friendly tourism represents for Cape Town and South Africa - after all, by 2020 about 26% of the world’s population will be Muslim and, given the growth of the Muslim middle class and younger population with increased disposable income, Muslim travellers are becoming a significant segment within the global travel and tourism sector.

Although there’s great potential here, we realised on investigation that more background work needed to be laid.

You see, despite Cape Town’s large Muslim population, there’s a gulf in awareness when it comes to tailored products for this market segment, particularly when it comes to hotels and restaurants.

With that in mind, Cape Town Tourism has been seeking ways to develop awareness around Muslim travellers’ needs.

In a survey published in the Muslim Travel Shopping Index 2015, more than 80% of the respondents mentioned that the availability of halaal food options is “very important” when choosing a holiday destination. This information has prompted the creation of a chef exchange programme, which kicked off with a function showcasing gourmet halaal cuisine.

Cape Town Tourism, in partnership with CrescentRating, brought two five-star chefs from Singapore to train Cape Town chefs. Both chefs are active in training and educating chefs on halaal gourmet cuisine.

This is aimed at providing practical tips and insights into what the Muslim traveller wants, so that restaurants and hotels can provide more personalised offerings and attract more business.

A recent study found that halaal tourism is now one of the fastest-growing sectors of the global travel industry, with visitor spending predicted to reach $220 ­billion (more than R3trillion) by 2020.

In this year’s MasterCard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index, Malaysia topped the list as the world’s best overall halaal travel destination, followed by the UAE and then Indonesia.

The ranking is dominated by countries that are part of the Saudi-based 57 member-state Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC). Singapore was in the top 10, leading a group of non-OIC countries currently extending a welcome to Muslim travellers.

South Africa and the UK were the only non-Asian countries to make this impressive list, but I’d caution that in order for us to realise this potential, what we have on offer has to be authentic - marketing the nation as a Muslim-friendly destination without offering the preferred services could do the opposite to making us a place of interest.

You may wonder what’s top-of-mind for the Muslim traveller - well, six faith-based needs: halaal food, salaah (prayer), ablution facilities, Ramadaan services, no non-halaal activities, and separate recreational facilities for males and females - are important factors when choosing holiday destinations.

Halaal food is by far the most important service that a Muslim traveller is looking for when travelling. Acceptability of the different levels of halaal food assurance varies among Muslims.

An online survey was conducted by Cape Town Tourism in partnership with CrescentRating to get direct feedback from the travel and tourism stakeholders regarding their interest in and understanding of the Muslim travel market.

Most of the respondents agree that attracting Muslim tourists will help Cape Town as a destination as well as their own businesses. However, it is apparent most only have a very basic understanding of halaal concepts.

There is major confusion about different terminology usage to define certain aspects of halaal. The most obvious is the uncertainty about the use of the term “halaal-friendly or Muslim-friendly food”. Our local take on this is quite different to many varying international opinions.

CrescentRating’s report shows that restaurants are pivotal to - and a huge development area for - Cape Town as a Muslim-friendly city. The objective of this programme is to engage directly with the restaurant and hotel industries, and to create awareness of the potential of this market segment, training chefs in halaal cuisine and the basic adjustments required to meet standards.

The purpose of the campaign is to create awareness and educate the industry on halaal concepts and the potential of the Muslim market. Participating chefs will gain the knowledge to cater for this market as well as their current clients.

The Muslim market travels mainly over our winter season and could contribute significantly to eradicate seasonality. With any such programme, we can’t allow uncertainty to paralyse us; although we’re learning as we go along, there must be progress.

If we make mistakes, we welcome participation from all stakeholders. Collectively, we can begin to make practical inroads that see us shifting to a visibly Muslim-friendly destination.

There are challenges facing the tourism sector on all sides, from water shortages to ensuring domestic tourism continues within our economic environment, so it makes sense to capitalise on all opportunities.

* Enver Duminy is CEO of Cape Town Tourism.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus