According to a recent study by DinarStandard, a U.S. based marketing, research, and advisory firm focused on Muslim markets, the global outbound expenditure of Muslim tourism in 2011 was $126.1 billion. This figure is larger than the tourist spending of Germany and almost double that of China. And Reem El Shafaki, a senior associate with DinarStandard, believes Muslim travelers are underserved in America and says that hotels that cater to the needs of Muslim guests stand a good chance of growing market share and increasing revenue.
“There was a big drop in the number of inbound Muslim tourists to the United States after September 11,” says El Shafaki. “But recently the numbers are starting to rise again. This is a promising trend for hotels.”
DinarStandard along with CrescentRating.com, a Halal-friendly travel website, conducted an online survey from top Muslim source markets. The survey received 922 total responses and covered questions relating to tourist profiles, destinations, lodging, and transportation needs. Results show that the majority of Muslims surveyed (52.7 percent) traveled for leisure within the last year.
El Shafaki notes that the new Muslim traveler is affluent and has discretionary income to spend on vacations. “It’s interesting to note that the travelers from the Arabian Gulf, from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, represent 37 percent of the Muslim global expenditure, but only three percent of the Muslim population,” she says.
According to the study, the top inbound cities for Muslim tourists in the United States are New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and Orlando. And El Shafaki believes hotels in these markets can make basic changes to their practices in order to better accommodate and attract a Muslim clientele.
The majority of devout Muslim travelers look for family-friendly accommodations with Halal (permissible by Islamic Law) food options and space to pray multiple times a day. El Shafaki says that a simple way to become a more Muslim-friendly location is to educate front desk staff about the Muslim culture and what types of questions Muslim guests may ask during their stays. Staff should also be aware of Muslim holidays such as Ramadan to make guest stays more personal with a holiday greeting or schedule of events. She says that hotels can also put together a “Muslim welcome kit” that includes a prayer time schedule, a prayer rug, a list of nearby mosques, and recommendations for Halal restaurants. A good resource for locating Halal restaurants in a specific area is the website Zabihah.com.
Hotels can also make marketing to Muslims an objective moving forward in order to make their properties more attractive to the Muslim population. El Shafaki suggests using ethnic media channels including Urdu and Arabic-language publications and television stations to reach the Muslim audience. Hotels can offer special deals or discounts related to Muslim holidays as a way of bringing in more guests during celebrations such as Ramadan, and they can even work with tour operators and travel agents and get listed on Muslim travel websites to increase visibility.
El Shafaki believes that hotels in the U.S. stand to reap rewards from the increasing Muslim tourism market as long as the properties are willing to make a few adjustments in terms of educating staff and adjusting to meet cultural needs.
“I’m sure all hotels want to get more heads in their beds,” she says. “One way to do that is to add more target segments. In addition to marketing to the Chinese or the European customer, I think adding the Muslim market will be very beneficial.”