Associate Professor Asad Mohsin, an expert in tourism at the University of Waikato, is the co-founder and chair of New Zealand’s only Halal Tourism Symposium, being held in Auckland on Monday, March 23. The inaugural symposium was held last year at the University of Waikato.
This one-day event aims to help tourism operators understand how to promote New Zealand as a more favorable ‘halal friendly’ destination for Muslim holidaymakers and business travelers; by making it easier for them to comply with Islamic religious beliefs during their stay in New Zealand.
The tourism sector already contributes around $15 billion a year to New Zealand’s GDP, and the economic potential of halal tourism to add to our national income is huge, says Dr Mohsin. “The intention is simply to make these tourists feel more relaxed and welcome in our country.”
The conference is co-sponsored by Waikato Management School’s Institute for Business Research (IBR) and is expected to attract up to 100 attendees from the tourism, hospitality, government and tertiary education sectors. The keynote speaker is Professor Noriah Ramli, from the International Islamic University of Malaysia.
“It’s important for New Zealand’s tourism industry to continuously explore new and emerging markets to create value and sustain profits,” says Dr Mohsin. “For example, Indonesia is home to around 220 million Muslims and is one of the world’s fastest growing economies – Indonesia’s citizens spent $7.2 billion on tourism in 2012 alone, but few of them ever visit New Zealand.”
Muslim travelers from the Middle East currently favour Europe and the UK for their family holidays. “At least four international hotel chains in Europe have started to advertise that they cater specifically for halal tourists, and their business has increased as a result.”
New Zealand could market itself as the next exciting hotspot on their itinerary. “We need to raise local awareness about halal tourism in New Zealand and try to catch up.”
However, there are many misconceptions around what halal tourism is. One of the biggest challenges will be educating New Zealand tourism operators on how easy it can be to serve the needs of Muslim visitors without having to spend thousands of dollars, he says.
For example, ‘halal-friendly’ tourism operators should advise their guests how to find nearby mosques, provide a list of cafes and restaurants that serve halal food; and put prayer mats and Qibla signage that points in the direction of Mecca in hotel rooms. They might also consider organising special events such as a banquet of halal-foods for women only, or employ Arabic-speaking staff to run tours.
“Some five-star halal-friendly hotels in Europe even provide separate swimming and spa facilities for men and women, but that’s not common or expected,” says Dr Mohsin.
Dr Mohsin hopes to develop a marketing strategy to promote halal tourism in New Zealand, with the support of organisations such as Tourism New Zealand, the Tourism Export Council, the Hotel Council, and the Federation of Islamic Associations New Zealand (FIANZ).
Later this year, Professor of Tourism Management Chris Ryan, from Waikato Management School, will publish a special edition of the leading journal Tourism Management Perspectives, focused entirely on the halal tourism industry. Professor Ryan has been the journal’s editor since 2012.
The symposium is being held at Auckland Institute of Studies, 120 Asquith Avenue, Mount Albert, Auckland, 8.30am to 5pm.