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Several destinations have already started to distinguish themselves as halal-friendly destinations giving them a considerable competitive advantage in the fight for the growing Muslim traveler demographic.
Thailand has high potential to offer halal tourism services to attract wealthy travellers from Muslim countries, given its rich choice of tourist destinations and quality food resources, says Islamic Bank of Thailand director Adisak Asmimana.
Halal not only entails dietary matters but extends to consumer products and living under sharia law.
Should Thailand upgrade its tourism facilities to meet halal standards, it can attract massive revenue streams from wealthy Muslim travellers, he said.
Thailand still does not have any five-star halal-friendly hotels to serve well-heeled visitors from the Gulf states. Tourism-related agencies should consider the halal market as one of their tourism promotion policies, with a focus on five-star Muslim-friendly hotels in the country’s major tourist spots, said Mr Adisak.
Halal hotels or resorts are free of alcohol, karaoke and nightclubs and have separate swimming pools for women and men. Such hotels also offer only halal food.
Halal hotels can also reap benefit from Thailand as a popular medical hub for affluent Muslims as patients usually arrive with 10-20 family members, said Mr Adisak, adding that they seek treatment at Thai hospitals due to their high quality service.
Tourists from the Gulf states like to visit during the rainy season to escape their hot season and enjoy Thai hospitality.
Mr Adisak urged the government to put halal business promotion on the agenda of the national development plan and provide training to commercial counsellors, especially those with postings in the Gulf countries, to gain insight into the halal business. It should also set up a halal committee to be chaired by the prime minister.
Thai operators should cash in on the Islamic Bank of Thailand expanding into Muslim countries which have a combined population of more than 2 billion. The halal market is valued at hundreds of billions of dollars, of which Thailand has captured less than a 0.5% market share.
Meanwhile, neighbouring Malaysia is capitalising on the market with its plan to set up a halal food manufacturing centre in Thailand to prepare for the advent of the Asean Economic Community at the end of 2015 as Thailand has a variety of raw material resources.
Brunei, like Malaysia, imports raw materials from other countries to produce halal foods for export, while Myanmar has already established a halal office.
Ittirit Kinglake, the Tourism Council of Thailand’s vice-president for regional strategy, said Thailand can generate massive income even if it lured only 0.5% of Muslims, from the Middle East in particular, to visit here.
Around 500,000 tourists from the Gulf countries visit Thailand each year with an annual growth of 40% in recent years. Thailand is the world’s top eighth destination for Muslim tourists, with Malaysia and Turkey taking the top spots.
Some hotels in Thailand have started to set up a halal zone for Muslim tourists and in future are likely to offer separate spas and swimming pools for men and women to comply with Islamic beliefs, said Mr Ittirit.
Following the integrated market of all 10 Asean nations, Thailand could draw more Muslim travellers, especially those from Indonesia and Malaysia, he said.
(c)2014 the Bangkok Post (Bangkok, Thailand). Distributed by MCT Information Services.