Hawzah News Agency - When one of her husband's colleagues heard about the trip, he asked to join them. The colleague is a practising Muslim, as are the Lius, and he thought they would understand his concerns about things like keeping halal while on the road.
Faced with the daunting task of working out an itinerary, hotels, transport, and locating halal dining options in a language he did not speak, he offered to pay the Lius if they would take care of it all for him.
Liu arranged a 14-day trip to Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Yiwu, along the way eating halal meals with no pork, lard, or alcohol. When his cousins in Britain heard about the man's trip, they contacted Liu to help plan one of their own, and their cousins in Germany and Malaysia did the same. Halal China Tours was born.
The company is tapping a booming market for Muslim travel. Mastercard estimates the global market is worth nearly US$200 billion and will grow to US$300 billion by 2030, making it one of the fastest-growing segments of the tourism industry. Nearly US$34 billion is already being spent in Asia alone.
By far the biggest spenders come from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with wealthy Gulf travellers spending more than US$40 billion globally last year. Indonesia comes third in expenditure by Muslim travellers, at US$7.5 billion and growing, with Malaysia spending about half that, followed by Singaporeans. Outbound Muslim travellers from Asia, particularly from Malaysia and Indonesia, are set to spend more than those from Europe within the next two years.
How Hong Kong, Japan and Korea won over Muslim travellers
While Muslim travellers from the Middle East and Europe visit Asia on luxury beach holidays, independent millennials from Indonesia and Malaysia are flocking to Japan and South Korea in search of halal sushi and shopping in Seoul.
The nations receiving the most Muslim travellers globally are Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Qatar. In Asia, the top destinations are Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and China, with Japan and South Korea coming close behind.
Eighty percent of travel in Asia is intra-regional, according to the World Tourism Organisation, and the fast-growing segment of younger Muslim travellers from Southeast Asia is heading to non-Muslim-majority destinations like Japan, Thailand, and Korea. By 2020 half of all tourism jobs created globally by the Muslim tourism market will be in Asia.
Ten years ago, Fazal Bahardeen, 54, was travelling the world as a telecommunications executive. A Singaporean citizen born in Sri Lanka, Bahardeen often worked in China. He spent a lot of time in hotel rooms during business trips. But in all his travels he noticed that reliable information was hard to find about where to eat halal, which airports had prayer spaces, and which hotels and restaurants served alcohol. So he started a list.
Today, Bahardeen is no longer a telecommunications executive, and the list has blossomed into Singapore-based Crescent Rating, which accredits hospitality organisations catering to Muslim travellers – and conducts market research now looked to by global industry leaders as a barometer for the multibillion-dollar Muslim travel market.
Crescent Rating partners with Mastercard to release the annual Global Muslim Travel Index, a ranking of 130 destinations based on accessibility to Muslim travellers. Bahardeen recently returned from a trip to South Africa, where among other activities, he led a workshop for 40 hotel chefs on how to prepare high-end halal cuisine.
A FORCE FOR PEACE
When Nabil Ismailiya had the opportunity to attend Guangzhou's famous Canton import-export fair, he jumped at the chance. The father of two, originally from Reading, just outside London, arranged a 12-day trip to China and Hong Kong in 2015 with Halal China Tours.
Liu helped him explore halal Chinese food despite the language barrier. Before travelling to China, Ismailiya had also made trips to Tokyo in 2011 and Seoul in 2013.
"Korea really surprised me," he said. "So many people speak English, and when they see you as a tourist just talk to you on the subway."
In addition to advice from locals, Ismailiya used sites such as Zabihah to locate dining options on the road. Zabihah features crowdsourced reviews of halal dining offerings all over the world and has more than 20 million annual users.