As France and Belgium consider banning the use of burqa out in the open, Middle Eastern tourists with large purchasing power are expected to stay away from their traditional playgrounds and opt for other Muslim-majority holiday destinations around the world.
According to Maktoob News, Gulf-based travel agents are expecting a significant drop in enquiries for holiday visits to France. Paris is the second most popular holiday destination for Middle Eastern travellers after London.
Veiled women are a regular sight in the luxury stores on Paris shopping boulevards but that could be a thing of the past as fear for their safety and privacy mounts.
“There is a lot of high-end tourism from the Gulf so the economic impact will be huge,” according to Chahid Bouamarane of Saudi-based Al Tayyar Travel Group.
“They want to have fun when they travel and if they fear harassment somewhere they will change their destination,” said Mohsin Kidwai, manager for holidays at UAE-based Orient Travels.
This void instead is quickly being filled by progressive Muslim countries and other holiday destinations around the world.
Malaysia for one has seen a steady increase of Middle East tourist arrivals over the past five years. The country registered over 280,000 visitors from the Gulf in 2009, an 8 percent increase over the previous year’s figure.
“One of our objectives in Dubai is to promote Malaysia as a top-of-mind tourist destination,” said Azizan Noordin, Tourism Malaysia’s deputy director-general for planning.
He added that Malaysia’s numerous islands and beaches, including Penang and the resort island of Langkawi, would continue to be high on the list of places to visit among Arab travelers.
Data indicated that visitors from Saudi Arabia were among the trendsetters in 2009, as far as the Gulf market is concern. Over 68,000 Saudi visitors came to Malaysia last year and together they chipped in a total of RM495.7 million (US$155 mil) to the nation’s coffers.
The Saudis also recorded an average length of stay of 10.6 nights and spent an average of RM6,430.8 (US$2,009.6) in terms of expenditure per capita while in Malaysia.
Turkey, a significant historical and Islamic cultural centre, has also positioned itself as a gateway to amazing possibilities. A million tourists from the Middle East visited Turkey in 2009 with growth from the GCC alone increasing by 16.45%. The country attracted nearly 9,000 Kuwaitis, 15,500 Saudis, and over 27,000 visitors from Morocco last year.
Significant increase in Middle East tourist arrivals was also recorded in the island of Cebu in the Philippines. Last year’s 10,803 visitors was a substantial increase from the 4,711 tourists in 2008, and it has been growing at an average of 57.1 percent from 2005 to 2009.
Sri Lanka also reported a major influx of Arab travellers as Middle East tourist arrivals where it surged up to 50 percent in January 2010 as compared to the same period last year.
The surge was also felt closer to home. Tourist arrivals to the entire Gulf region registered a sharp growth, as much as 18.2 percent in 2008.
“The impact of the A/H1N1 flu, coupled with the global economic crisis, is likely to boost regional and domestic hotel occupancies, as increasingly travellers may opt for destinations closer to home, within the region or even within their home countries,” explained Abdel Gaffar, a representative of the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).
With the French government’s determination to press on with a law that covers just over 2,000 of its own Muslim population, Islamophobic sentiments could possibly be the catalyst that provides the critical mass required for growth within the global Halal industry.
Which makes the coming decade one to watch with keen interest, as far as the development of Halal is concerned.
Pic by Vlado Sestan, Croatia