Around 40% of the 240 million people in the SEA are Muslims and, like Biruar, they have certain requirements and needs that are not always easily accessible to them when traveling in the region. Indeed, as Muslim populations grow within major markets, demand for halal-certified products and services also gain momentum.
Muslim consumerism is no longer just about food. It has now extended to other sectors including cosmetics, fashion, technology, and travel, among others. In fact, the global expenditure of Muslim travelers is expected to reach around US$192 billion by 2020.
— JWTIntelligence (@JWTIntelligence) September 26, 2017
Young, rich, and tech-savvy, these modern Muslim travelers value three things when they journey across the SEA: availability of Halal food, access to mosques, and gender segregation for certain amenities. These were the top considerations yielded in a recent study conducted by travel site Have Halal, Will Travel (HHWT) to dig deeper into the lifestyle of this emerging market.
“As a Muslim traveler, it would be a big help and relief if more airline companies offered halal products in their in-flight menus,” answered 27-year-old Filipino businessman Mohammad Ash-Shahid Biruar when asked about concerns he might have when traveling in Southeast Asia.
Airlines Enter Halal Industry in SEA
While Cebu Pacific, one of the largest airlines in the Philippines, had long already assured its passengers of Halal-certified in-flight meals, a number of several airline operators have just begun paying attention to the growing Muslim consumerism in the SEA.
Air France KLM is aggressively picking up on this trend and, in fact, has partnered with HHWT for a campaign targeting Muslim travelers in Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The Franco-Dutch airline also collaborated with local celebrity chef Farah Quinn for Halal-friendly special meal options.
On top of those abovementioned considerations, the same HHWT study also identified these young Muslim travelers as experience-driven who value authentic local experiences. These include being immersed in the local culture, as well as trying out local food—halal, of course.
Singapore-based Budget Aviation Holding’s Jacqueline Loh recognizes the adventurous side of today’s Muslim travelers. Nevertheless, she is adamant that offering halal-certified in-flight meals should remain a top priority for the airline, considering the majority of their passengers are pilgrims from the SEA.
AirAsia’s Spencer Lee, on the other hand, believes that an airline should not limit itself to serving halal meals but that it should also cater to the other needs of a modern Muslim traveler. He put forward two main challenges to airlines: firstly, that they ensure halal-friendly destinations and, secondly, encouraging Muslim travelers to venture into less-traditional halal destinations.
Wego, a Singapore-based travel search site, offers inspiration and information on where to find these destinations, whether they are prevalent restaurants or new discoveries. It acknowledges how these modern Muslim travelers are highly engaged in social media and communications channels, and responds with a blog that addresses their concerns.