Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Act now to embrace the Muslim Millennial travel dollar

From left: Dr Eunice Tan, Lecturer in tourism, Murdoch University, as Moderator; Q Akashah, Executive Director, Ogilvy Noor, Raudha Zaini, Marketing Manager, HalalTrip, Nisha Abu Bakar, Founder, Elevated Consultancy & Training, and Aisha Islam, VP, Core & Digital Products, Indonesia, Malaysia & Brunei Division, Mastercard.
From left: Dr Eunice Tan, Lecturer in tourism, Murdoch University, as Moderator; Q Akashah, Executive Director, Ogilvy Noor, Raudha Zaini, Marketing Manager, HalalTrip, Nisha Abu Bakar, Founder, Elevated Consultancy & Training, and Aisha Islam, VP, Core & Digital Products, Indonesia, Malaysia & Brunei Division, Mastercard.

Panelists at a session on the Muslim Millennial at the Halal in Travel – Asia Summit 2017 conference noted that Millennials, already a significant force in the travel market - will be at their peak earning, spending and travelling life stage within the next five to 10 years. Brands which do not cater to them are likely to lose out, they added.

Nisha Abu Bakar, Founder, Elevated Consultancy & Training, said the market intelligence would allow travel industry players to have a competitive advantage in the industry.

"Halal travel is not a homogeneous market – migrosegmenting and micromarketing have to be the mantra today to go after this market," she said, advising the industry to study Millennials' motivations, preferences, choice destinations, and clarify misperceptions to succeed.

For example, she noted that it is a myth that the outbound market (where travellers come from) for Muslim travellers typically comes from the Middle East, and that the inbound market (travel destinations) is from the same region.

"Malaysia has been ranked as the top destination for this market," she said. "Indonesia is ranked as a top inbound market...they are not seeking the Middle East or North Africa destinations."

There are also Muslim Millennials outside of the Middle East, in Malaysia, Indonesia, India and China, she added.

Aisha Islam, VP, Consumer Products, South East Asia, Mastercard, agreed that trends are shifting. "People technically or have historically associated the Muslim segment as coming from the Middle East. What we've seen now is that it's now coming more from Southeast Asia," she said, naming the Millennial segment in Indonesia as a great opportunity.

She also stressed that the end-to-end customer journey starts long before the customer has come to the airport, which has implications for companies trying to make sure they are relevant to Muslim Millennials. "We are now seeing providers trying to provide global Wi-fi access as a product service for their consumers," she said. "It's a pre-travel journey, a during-travel journey and even a post-travel journey."

Nisha advised hoteliers to shift to online social platforms to attract Millennials. "How do you communicate with and engage with this market, share so that they become your advocates? There's no need for third-party influencers. Use Muslim Millennials as influencers for their own market," she suggested.

"Branding becomes very critical, loyalty is about the brand. (It is about) branding and positioning of you as a Muslim-friendly organisation."

Raudha Zaini, Marketing Manager, HalalTrip, a Millennial herself, described the Muslim Millennial DNA as needing to get the most out of the travel experience, still being connected to people at home, and being true to faith-based needs. "They are willing to accept if a destination does not have halal-certified restaurants, they are willing to eat vegetarian or seafood-only restaurants," she said. "Having the necessary tools to find halal food online that's very important. They have to be connected to the Internet when they travel."

Following on from Nisha's point of Millennials as influencers, Raudha noted, "It plays into the bigger picture as they share interests with the community and halal groups which would benefit from such information."

Authentic experiences are important, as with all Millennials, Raudha added. "It's about them going beyond the touristic spots though that could still be important to some, interacting with the locals, visiting the local mosques."

She also noted that flexible itineraries are preferred. "Most traditional Muslim travel agents are still about (guided travel)," she explained.

Besides authenticity, a second "A", affordability, is important as well. "It's about factoring in affordable accommodation, it has to adhere to their needs. It's really about having that information available online, whenever they need," she said.

Nisha also addressed concerns that the Millennials' focus on affordability means that it is a less profitable market. "It's not a budget market, they travel on the whole a larger number of times," she pointed out. "In five to 10 years' time, you are going to see them in middle and top management. In five to 10 years' time this is a market that is going to reach their peak in travel. Do not perceive them as cheap and budget-conscious. Look at them five to 10 years from now."

She also said that travel agencies will continue to exist. "What you have to understand is how you're going to reinvent yourself," she said. "You cannot be traditional."

How Muslim Millennials differ from general Muslim travellers.
How Muslim Millennials differ from general Muslim travellers.

Ogilvy Noor's own research shows that Muslim Millennials are normal Millennials, Q Akashah, Executive Director, Ogilvy Noor, said. "We don't want things that are boring. We don't want things our parents want. We want things that are authentic.. but we refuse to compromise on our faith, that's been very hard for countries or industries to capture," she said.

She pointed to AirBnB being a winner in the Muslim Millennial travel sphere as a result. "AirBnB provides that local experience, for example (they may have) a Muslim owner, who can give advice on where to eat, and where to buy groceries so you can cook for yourself," she said.

Entrepreneurial Muslim Millennials who have set up shops for modest fashion have become a threat to global brands, Q added. "The statistics don't lie; the numbers show that this is a real market," she said. "It's just a question of how do you connect the dots."
Aisha championed the provision of authentic experiences as well as the use of innovation and digititalisation in catering to Muslim Millennials.

"When we look at the experience of being online, it's all about digital. Most of the research is not on a laptop, it's on their phone," she said.

"Muslim Millennials and Muslim consumers say that while we want products and services that are in line with our faith, at the same time we want them to be innovative," she added. "Give me these authentic and innovative experiences aligned with my faith."

Q said that 60% of Muslim Millennials say international brands or global brands do not talk to them. "We cannot compromise on food, we want areas for our prayers," she noted. "It's not the functional that's important, it's the emotional that's important and that's where brands are falling short."

Q also said that brands have not done more out of fear. "They don't know what to do, and they're scared of doing it wrong," she said.

The need to change things is real, Nisha added. Nisha noted that Islamophobia is the No. 2 factor that consistently influences the choice of destinations for Muslims anywhere in the world. "It is a tough and challenging time that is facing all of us," she said.

What brands can do

Simple ways to start addressing the Muslim Millennial market include:

Make Muslim-friendly services easily discoverable online, and support instant communication such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. "Halaltrip implemented a chatbot recently," Raudha said, sharing that almost 90% of queries today are answered through it.

Encourage sharing and online reviews. "They rely on online reviews and sharing to make travel decisions," Raudha noted.

"Do you have accessibility for them, do you have the digital platforms to connect to them before they travel? Start looking at your supply side very carefully," Nisha said. "You have to work with your tourism board, you have to work with your hotels."

Offer novel and authentic experiences that still take into consideration Muslim Millennials' faith-based needs.

Talking about diversity and celebrating it: H&M inserted one person wearing a hijab in an advertisement, and was suddenly seen as Muslim-friendly. Nike introduced a sports hijab and "that made me believe in the Nike brand more," Q said.

Global values, such as those from the Body Shop, might be too general, Q noted. "That probably is when you playing it safe and you play it too safe," she said.

Focus on special Muslim occasions, such as a specific campaign on Eid/Hari Raya. Zalora – launched a modest fashion collection just for Eid, for example.

Training: "Get your certifications done, train your staff if you are a hotel," Nisha advised. She also noted that most tour operators are male, so sensitivity in training** them becomes critical.

Act now

"There are so many opportunities for brands to connect with the Muslim consumer," Q said. "If you haven't gotten started yet, why not?"

"Move fast – in five years' time you will have a leading competitive advantage," Nisha added. "Be strategic – design campaigns today that lead."

Aisha agreed, pointing out that the halal lifestyle segment is worth more than US$1 trillion and covers everything from travel and food, to Islamic banking, pharmaceuticals, and advertising. "There are a lot of pillars for this Muslim dollar," she said.

"If you choose to ignore them they can also ignore you. Whether you do it now or whether you do it later, someone's already going after this segment."


Read the Suroor Asia blog posts about why Muslim Millennials are the travel segment to watch, and about Zalora's Hari Raya Boutique for 2017

Hashtags: #MuslimMillennialTravel, #HalalinTravel

*The Quran advises that Muslim women should not be in the male gaze. Many do not touch or expect to be touched by males who they are eligible to marry.