Friday, 2 November 2018

Go digital for halal travel, but don't forget the human element

From left: Nisha Abu Bakar, Neollene Ain, Shinjan Sarangi and Devesh Kuwadekar.
From left: Nisha (moderator), Neollene, Sarangi and Kuwadekar.
There is a digital aspect to every part of the consumer journey for halal travel, but the personal touch remains important. This was a key takeaway from a panel titled Going Digital: How Online Has Shaped Muslim Travel Behavior at the Halal in Travel Asia Summit, which had the theme Innovation & Technology in the Muslim Travel Space.

"If the world sees there is money in it, it'll all fall into place automatically," said Shinjan Sarangi, Head of Business Development, Halaltrip and CrescentRating.

Sarangi said Muslims had been missing the halal element from travel prior to the advent of digital halal travel specialists such as Halaltrip. "They were compromising on that, struggling to find relevant content," he said. "We ensure that all of them are aware that you don't have to compromise."

Halaltrip, which has rated a number of destinations in terms of their Muslim friendliness, wants to make sure that Muslim travellers are "exposed to all the options", Shinjan said. "You don't have to restrict your options to just Malaysia or the Middle East or Turkey," he said. "The minute that you can offer the consumer something that is meant just for them, you have their attention, you're looking at a loyal stream of customers."

Nisha Abu Bakar, Founder, Elevated Consultancy & Training, noted that there is still very little awareness in the travel and tourism space about the clout of the Muslim traveller, let alone how to support halal travel.

"The 1st thing is the knowledge - it's just not there," she said. "When you start talking numbers.. then people start to buy the idea and say they are receptive to it."

The Mastercard-Halal Trip Digital Muslim Travel Report (DMTR) 2018 was released at the event, and revealed that online travel expenditure by Muslim travellers will exceed US$180 billion by 2026.

Nisha added that it is important to stress that minor, incremental changes may be needed. "It's like not a (full) prayer room, just a clean space for prayer... when you break it down then the industry becomes more receptive to say 'tell us a bit more'," she said.

Content sourced online

Neollene Ain, Filmmaker, Photographer and digital Muslim travel influencer known for her Instagram outreach at @neollene, said that she would research itineraries online. "The first thing is to find halal food. Some travellers need a proper place to pray, they look for a mosque, a prayer room... sometimes we can find other (places) to pray, just a proper place, like a clean room to pray," she said.

"We are searching for Muslim-friendly hotels that can provide halal food for breakfast, other travellers are looking a rest room that is Muslim-friendly, for example some of them are looking for a bidet in the restroom."

Safer payments

Devesh Kuwadekar, VP, Market Development, Mastercard, said the digital nature of travel now means that stakeholders must embrace mobile payments. "It's important to understand that people now look at your smartphone not as a computer but as a purchasing device. Every device can be used to make purchases," he said. "It's important that consumers can make a payment that is safe and secure. People want customised options. People want safety and security, and we are there to help them."

Human element

Sarangi added that the role of travel influencers and reviewers is very important. "There first needs to be information about the place. I need somebody to go there, (whom) I look up to and is driving the decision on whether to go there," he said.

"Hopefully there will be enough Neollenes for people to see, that they have set the tone to say 'it is safe, I have been there'."

Wider ecosystem

Kuwadekar noted that the halal travel discussion is focused on hotels and airlines, food and beverage; but there are other players in the ecosystem. "We're missing a lot on the airports, the duty free operators which are part of the journey," he said. "There could be possibly a trinity of airlines, airports, and hotels who work together to address the Muslim travellers because that's a complete journey."

Sarangi believes that the touchpoint for Muslim travellers will always remain travel agents. "When it is a niche market with specific requirements you'll go to people who understand," he said. "We go to travel agents because they understand our needs better."

On Neollene's wishlist is a platform where Muslim travellers around the world can connect with local Muslims at their travel destinations. "How can I find a local friend who can help me travel and find a place to eat? In my Instagram I can connect with a lot of people around the world. I ask my followers (if we can meet). It would be nice (to) connect on that platform," she said.

The US$180 billion Muslim travel market was a key segment at October's ITB Asia 2018, which hosted the Summit. A new Muslim Travel Hub and Pavilion was launched at the show to field discussions on halal travel and feature exhibitors that offer related travel products and services respectively.

By 2020, it is expected that there will be 156 million Muslim travellers, growing nearly 30%
since 2016*.

Hashtags: #halalintravel, #itbasia2018

* mega brands