SINGAPORE - Gearing up for an expected rise in Muslim holidaymakers over the next decade, tourist destinations are striving to offer Muslim-friendly services including halal spas and prayer rooms at airport terminals to accommodate the rising number of tourists.
"Why not try Gold Coast for a cooler Ramadan this year?" says the tourism website of Australia's Queensland state, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Sunday, July 29.
"With a long history of welcoming Middle Eastern visitors and a large resident community, facilities for Muslims in Gold Coast, Australia keep getting better every year."
A new study by Singapore-based halal travel specialist Crescentrating and DinarStandard, a US-based firm that tracks the Muslim lifestyle market, predicted that the number of Muslim holidaymakers will increase in the next decade.
The study, conducted in 47 countries, found that spending by Muslim tourists is growing faster than the global rate and is forecast to reach $192 billion a year by 2020, up from $126 billion in 2011.
Crescentrating chief executive Fazal Bahardeen said Muslim-majority states such as Egypt, Malaysia and Indonesia were already favorite destinations.
Malaysia, the number-one destination according to the findings, attracts Muslim visitors even during the ongoing fasting month of Ramadan.
"It's not that far from Saudi Arabia and it's less expensive to travel here rather than Europe, said Mohammed Ali Alali, 23, a petroleum engineering student from Dammam, Saudi Arabia, who went there on honeymoon with his bride, a 20-year-old medicine student.
It's also an Islamic country so that helps in many ways, like to find a mosque and Arabic food," he said after breaking fast at an Arabic restaurant in the capital Kuala Lumpur.
Non-Muslim countries, such as Thailand and Australia, especially the Gold Coast, were also "taking a serious look" at Muslim holidaymakers, taking into account these travelers' needs in their services and facilities.
The concept of halal, -- meaning permissible in Arabic -- has traditionally been applied to food.
Muslims should only eat meat from livestock slaughtered by a sharp knife from their necks, and the name of Allah, the Arabic word for God, must be mentioned.
Now other goods and services can also be certified as halal, including cosmetics, clothing, pharmaceuticals and financial services.
Eyeing a share from the Muslim tourist boom, non-Muslim countries are keen on establishing a halal-friendly atmosphere for Muslim tourists.
The availability of halal food tops the list of Muslim travelers' requirements, according to the survey.
These services include prayer rooms at airports and hotels, halal restaurants and even spas adapted to religious requirements.
Hungrily eyeing the Muslim travel boom, Thailand has been promoting halal spas for Muslim tourists, who require strict privacy for male and female clients.
It also organized a month-long festival of Thai cuisine in the United Arab Emirates from June 8 to July 7.
Crescentrating's study ranked Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport the most Islam-friendly airport in a non-Muslim country.
These services organized to meet the needs of the world's 1.8 billion Muslims were creating business opportunities in numerous sectors.
"From food and Islamic finance, the industry is spreading its wings into pharmaceuticals, fashion and tourism, among many other areas," the Economist Intelligence Unit said in a March report.
The report found that tourists from the Gulf; Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the sector's biggest spenders.Gulf countries accounted for 37 percent of Muslim tourist spending in 2011 even though they represent a mere three percent of the global Muslim population.