The Future of Halal Tourism in the Post Covid-19 Era

Updated: Oct 14, 2021



The Travel Industry in Lockdown


The world has come to a standstill; or at least that’s what it feels like to the travel industry. Previously overbooked flights are now flying empty; hotels in some countries are shuttered while others have been ordered to open at 50% capacity; travel companies that were once managing multiple itineraries seven days a week, currently have empty calendars.


Senior travel executives and company owners, scrambling to make ends meet, now make difficult staffing decisions while worrying if they can sustain their own families over the next few months. These same business leaders wonder when this crisis ends and recovery begins, will people still have the appetite and economic means to travel?


When executives are not battling the current crisis or worrying about the financial bottom line, they are planning for an uncertain future, reading everything in sight from trusted travel experts, attending every webinar, and talking to their friends and colleagues in the industry to gauge their predictions and determine how they’re coping. Halal travel businesses incur the same challenges except for the fact that most are small businesses, making it harder to weather the storm.


Predicting The Future


As a director at DinarStandard, a growth strategy and execution management firm specializing in the global halal/ethical economy, I have been approached by industry players asking for our insights on what the future might look like for the travel industry.


While no one has a crystal ball, experts are looking at past economic trajectories, gauging consumer sentiment, and tapping into the foresights of experts to make predictions. Due to the growing demand, we at DinarStandard will be preparing a Brief on the ‘new normal’ for post-COVID-19 travel based on the early signals we’re seeing.


In this article, I’ll be discussing some of these signals and what they might hold for the future of travel.



COVID-19’s Impact on The Travel Sector


Let’s begin by briefly reviewing the impact of the COVID-19 crisis so far. It is no secret that the travel industry has been hard hit by the advance of the virus. UNWTO predicts a loss of up to 1.2 trillion in tourism revenues, and that up to 120 million direct tourism jobs are at risk.


Lifting travel bans and putting in place safety precautions will not be enough for travel revenues to return to some of their former glory, as fears related to health concerns linger and the economic downturn and forecasted global recession will affect the spending power of travelers. Many wouldbe leisure travelers have lost jobs. Meanwhile, companies are becoming leaner and cutting costs, so much of business travel will also be cut.


In a survey of 1,500 international travelers released in early May by mind-set, a Swiss-based travel market research firm, it was found that. 41% of international travelers will consider traveling less or not at all for leisure in the 6 months after travel bans are lifted. Further, 62% said they prefer to avoid crowds or large gatherings in airports/planes/ destinations, and 59% said they would prefer to save money in the upcoming months. It was also found that 33% will consider traveling less or not at all for business in the 6 months after travel bans are lifted.


With one exception, it’s safe to assume that Muslim travelers share a similar travel intent as mainstream travelers. The exception?


Muslim travelers tend to have a larger share of multi-generational travel. With the elderly at greater risk from the virus, I expect that intergenerational travel will resume later than nuclear family travel.



From the travel industry perspective, in addition to the aviation industry, which has been the hardest hit by the crisis, small businesses are suffering immensely. In terms of halal tourism, I imagine the small and micro-businesses focused on hajj and umrah are the hardest hit and many will not survive this crisis.


Immediate Reactions and Coping Examples



After the initial shock of the industry being shaken to the core, veteran travel players used to dealing with crisis situations and emerging from minor or major disasters, are looking for ways to survive. There are already examples of resilience and innovation coming from travel players, who, while weathering this storm, are finding ways to make whatever revenue they can as they wait for their royal customers to come back once the crisis is over.


Several tourism businesses have started providing virtual experiences which help elevate brand awareness while consumers are preoccupied with immediate economic concerns. Airbnb, for example, started offering online experiences with local hosts. Viator, a tours and activities company, launched a #RoamFromHome project which offers a mixture of over 100 free and paid virtual experiences conducted by tour guides and hosts.


Faroe Islands (located halfway between Iceland and Norway) took their virtual experiences a step further, allowing virtual visitors to control local hosts with a joypad, commanding them to turn, walk, run and jump as they showed beautiful places. I’m curious to see if there have been any similar pivots from halal travel companies. To maintain revenue streams, some companies are offering advance purchase deals with flexibility and value-added. For example, Qatar Airways has launched a ‘Travel with Confidence’ campaign which offers flexibility to change travel dates free of charge and even offers ticket refunds. Customers can also choose to replace their travel voucher with a future voucher with a 10% additional value. Porter & Sail, a US-based hotel booking app, has pivoted to selling hotel gift cards which you can use later.


What a Post Pandemic New Normal Might Look Like


By now, we’ve all heard the term ‘new normal’ enough times to know that life will revert to the way it was after the crisis resolves.


While we are unable to predict exactly when this new normal will take hold in terms of specific dates, we do know that it can’t take place until a solution for the current crisis arrives, whether it’s in the form of a vaccine or herd immunity. Generally, we’re estimating the new normal will emerge in a year to a year and a half.


Looking at some early signals of what is happening now, these are some of the predictions we see from the perspectives of customers, the industry and governments.



What It Means to Travelers


Travelers, while currently restless from being locked-up in their home countries, and in some instances, their homes, are looking ahead to eased restrictions. Once they are free to travel, many factors will still come into play.


While governments might declare that it’s safe to travel, many individuals will still carry emotional baggage from the crisis and be reluctant to travel. Another issue may be a reluctance to spend money, especially if individuals have lost their jobs or a major portion of their income.


Travelers will need reassurances on health and safety measures in place through all the touch points of their journey, from airports and flights, to hotels and attractions. They will also need reassurances of the availability of quality medical care at their destination should they get sick while traveling.



Muslim travelers will need the additional reassurance, if they’re traveling to a non-Muslim country, that they will have access to Muslim-friendly medical care with provisions for halal food at the hospital, medication that is free of non-halal ingredients, and access to Islamic burial rituals should they be needed.


How is The Future Perceived by The Industry


Assuming that domestic travel will be the first to recover, many tourism businesses will pivot to cater to local travel when domestic restrictions ease. I expect this trend will continue post COVID-19, as businesses realize that a balance of domestic and international itineraries will mean sustained revenue and a healthier business model.


There will be a leap in innovations which were otherwise progressing slowly and being sporadically implemented. For example, robots in hotels, contactless payment, automated airports will be coming to venues sooner than we anticipated.


Smaller travel agencies will have an opportunity to gain loyal customers as travelers will prefer having the reassurance of working with a specific person instead of a faceless agent in a large call center. Smaller companies will also be well positioned to assist travelers in obtaining proof of health certification as required by destinations.


In terms of ancillary services, there will be more demand for insurance/takaful packages as travelers will want the peace of mind of having health insurance as well and the ability to change their travel plans in case of a health emergency.



Marketing Messages During and After The Pandemic


In terms of marketing, most of the industry is currently sending out variations of the same message: stay home now, travel later, come to our destination when you can travel.


Post the COVID-19 crisis, tourism businesses should focus on targeting segments that will bounce back rapidly, such as local and regional tourism, adventure travel, sustainable tourism, and young travelers.


The Future of Sustainable Tourism


While there is much talk of the positive impact of the crisis on the environment— how skies have become clearer, oceans bluer, beaches pollution-free— there is an assumption that having seen these positive impacts, the world, including the tourism industry, wouldn’t want to go back to its polluting ways.


But sustainable practices require deliberate actions by industry players, backed by government incentives and regulations. Implementing sustainable tourism measures requires planning as well as a budget.


Sustainable tourism measures also entail educating industry players, like locals, travelers, and other stakeholders.


Unfortunately, much of the heightened sanitation procedures including the use of harsh chemicals— which are detrimental to both human health and the environment—are at odds with sustainable tourism.



However, there is a way to address both concerns. The industry should consult with sustainabilityminded health experts on environmentally friendly and safe disinfectants to use.


The Role of Governments in Bringing Travel Back


Governments are playing an instrumental role during the crisis in helping prevent the tourism industry from collapsing. In many countries, governments have provided relief funds to the industry and have eased business regulations. More support is needed for small businesses who are the most vulnerable during the current crises and are an important part on the road to recovery.


As some countries are cautiously opening up to regional travel, allowing travelers from select neighboring countries to enter without quarantine restrictions –like Australia and New Zealand – this paves the way for regional cooperation among countries including the creation of tourism corridors. (For more info: COMCEC on Developing Multi-Destination Tourism Corridors In the OIC Member Countries)


What has come to light during this crisis is that countries with strong health and medical capabilities are faring much better than others. In the post COVID-19 period, a country’s perceived medical capabilities will play an important role in reassuring travelers.


Countries that are already on the map for medical tourism will have a competitive advantage. Turkey, for example, is expecting to resume domestic travel in June and will have intensive care units and ventilators close to tourism resorts.


Final Thoughts



My hope is that the resilience of the travel industry and the people who work in it will pull us through, that governments will step up further to provide the right amount of support where it’s needed, and that the industry will emerge more sustainable and resilient.




@reemelshafaki

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