Middle East nations are failing to fully exploit Islamic tourism and should tap into opportunities ranging from a Halaal airline to women-only hotels, a leading travel report said.
"Despite vastly differing requirements, Middle East tourism is missing out by targeting Muslims and non-Muslims in exactly the same way," according to the World Travel Market Global Trend Reports 2007.
"This represents an important, untapped potential and a business opportunity for Halaal tourism which is a form of religious tourism defined as activities permissible under Islamic law," said Fiona Jeffery, chairperson of World Travel Market - a major annual trade show underway in London.
The report forecasts that the number of tourists going to the Middle East will grow by 66 percent between now and 2011, by which time 55 million people should be visiting the region annually.
"A large proportion of these will be intra-regional, boosted by increased transport connectivity between cities and better infrastructure," said Jeffery.
Parita Chitakasem, Asia Pacific and Australasia travel and tourism manager, said Halaal Tourism has the potential to develop into "one of the most resilient forms of tourism".
She added: "The Vatican set up its own budget airline to transport pilgrims to holy sites in 2007 and there is potential for the development" of a Halaal airline.
"Such an airline could provide Halaal food, calls for prayer, Qu'rans in seat pockets, religious programmes on the inflight entertainment system and separate sections for male and female passengers.
"Another potential option is to explore women only hotels to overcome Muslim women being unable to book hotel rooms without a male guarantor, which is the case in Saudi Arabia," Chitakasem said.
According to WTM, tourism revenue in the Middle East is expected to more than double from its current level to almost $51-billion in 2011.
"Most of this expansion stems from inbound travellers, underlining the need for tailored Halaal tourism products and services that are developed within the region to cater to this dynamic market," the report concluded. - Sapa-AFP