Thailand ready to tap busy Muslim travel market
Fast-growing halal tourism has sparked development of new products and services
Halal tourism is one of the fastest-growing tourism sectors, with faith-based needs and behaviour from Islamic travellers gaining, according to the Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2019, an annual survey by Mastercard and CrescentRating.
In its fifth edition, the GMTI revealed robust growth in the market and named Thailand as a friendly country for Muslim travellers.
The Muslim travel market is expected to reach US$220 billion by 2020 with 160 million tourists, rising 36% to $300 billion with 230 million travellers in 2026.
The GMTI 2019 shows that Thailand ranked second among the top 10 preferred destinations for Muslim travel among countries outside of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) with a score of 57, behind Singapore with 65. Thailand also ranked 18th out of 130 destinations for Muslims worldwide.
The GMTI report uses criteria from the CrescentRating ACES model to consider four key measurements: services, environment, communications and access to evaluating each destination.
The report provides market insights for tourism operators to understand and prepare for the needs of Muslims tourists, such as prayer facilities, washroom facilities, gender-based recreational facilities and services with privacy, as well as halal food.
By the same token, halal travellers can ensure that the destination for their next trip is Muslim-friendly.
The top 10 non-OIC destinations also included Japan, Taiwan, South Africa and South Korea, which continued their upward movement, indicating that these destinations are becoming friendlier for Muslim tourists, the report said.
In Thailand, an estimated 3.6-3.7 million Muslims visited Thailand last year, accounting for nearly 10% of total international arrivals.
As the market trend is promising, the Tourism and Sports Ministry has launched a project for the development of halal tourism and services.
The Tourism Department in March hired Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration at Chulalongkorn University to carry out a project, including in-depth research on the demands of Muslim travellers and their behaviour in order to design tourism products and services to fit their needs and meet halal criteria, said a source in the department.
The institute must introduce at least four travel routes and use them as pilot tracks for the department to develop other destinations. These future travel routes should be tested by tourism experts such as bloggers specialising in tourism.
A handy travel guidebook for the routes, containing other tourism destinations, hotels, food restaurants, mosques and products from Muslim communities, should be produced, the source said.
Sasin is set to hold training courses for Halal tourism for tourism operators and related government and private agencies for some 700 participants nationwide. The department expects the project to be completed by mid-September.
Proposed Halal routes
Sukre Sarem, a lecturer for the Institute of Asian Studies at Chulalongkorn University, has praised the halal travel route project because it would let Muslim visitors experience the culture, arts and communities of Thai Muslims.
"Travel routes should also provide tourism destinations and allow visitors to experience authentic Muslim cultures and learn about the communities here," he said.
Speaking at a seminar, Mr Sukre, also an expert on Muslim history in Thailand, pointed to several potential travel routes that could inspire Muslim travellers, especially relating to Islamic heritage in Thai history.
In the capital, paintings of Turkish soldiers are at Chakri Maha Prasat Throne Hall in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Ban Khrua, an old community that dates back to the reign of King Rama I, has conserved Islamic art, in particular the Ottoman Empire symbol on the pediment.
In addition, there are many picturesque mosques scattered around the capital.
Mr Sukre said the river route along the Chao Phraya River could be a perfect trail to see residents from different cultures and religions that live together in peace and harmony.
"Islamic heritage can also be traced along land roads such as along the Airport Rail Link route, which runs past many Muslim communities," he said.
The travel route project should keep Thailand in the forefront of Muslim tourists' minds, encouraging a high percentage of repeat visitors.