The heat sets in, Ramadan arrives, and many flee the city – the annual summer exodus from Dubai is nothing new, though many of us equate this migration to expat residents, not so much the local population. While many UAE residents stay at home to observe the Holy Month, many others will head for cooler climes on foreign shores. The increasing number of affluent Emirati tourists has helped fuel the exponential increase in halal-friendly tourism – many travel agencies are keen to capitalise on GCC residents’ growing appetite for travel and are thus offering more and more holiday packages tailored specifically to Muslim tourists.
Islamic travel site Crescentrating (www.crescentrating.com) recently published the top ten halal tourist destinations outside the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. The list was compiled based on the facilities available for Muslim visitors, such as availability of halal-certified restaurants, mosques and family-friendly attractions. For many it will make interesting, if not surprising reading: the list includes Vienna, Munich, Bangkok, London, Delhi and Singapore. Australia’s Gold Coast and South Africa as a whole were also commended, while the survey singled out Bosnia and Herzegovina as the number-one halal-friendly tourist destination. More than half of the nation’s population in Bosnia and Herzegovina is Muslim, meaning there is an abundance of facilities for halal-conscious travellers. In terms of tourist attractions, there’s Sarajevo’s Old Town (Bascarsija), Mostar’s Ottoman bridge (Stari Most), the mosques at Bihac, and skiing at Jahorina.
Of this list, London can expect to enjoy the most visitors from the GCC in 2012, thanks largely to the Olympics (and, more specifically for Emirati travellers, their football team’s presence at the Games). It’s thought that 30.7 million GCC residents will visit the British capital over the course of this year.
The growth in affluent GCC travellers isn’t likely to subside any time soon. Besides, travel agencies will doubtless continue to promote halal-friendly packages across the UAE and beyond: they’ll want their share of a halal market thought to be worth Dhs7 trillion.
Two halal packages to try
Arabian Nights at the Tschuggen Grand, Switzerland
The ‘Arabian Nights’ package is geared towards Muslims observing Ramadan. It includes a four-night stay and offers guests a halal breakfast before sunrise and the opportunity to unwind at the multi-award-winning Bergoase Spa, built into the side of the mountain and offering exquisite views afforded by glass sails channelling light into the interior. For those wanting to take a more active approach to their stay, the package includes a free pass to the private Tschuggen Express railway that escorts guests from the hotel to the Swiss Alps in less than three minutes.
Dhs8,600 per person. Until October 28 2012. Tschuggen Grand Hotel (+4181 378 9999).
Radisson Blu Hotel Portman’s Olympic package, London
For those planning to travel to London to experience the 2012 Olympic Games, the Radisson Blu Hotel Portman has adapted its restaurant menu to include an Arabic barbecue night, with dining and shisha on the outside terrace and a weekly Middle Eastern buffet night, so that all visitors to the hotel can experience the flavour of the Arab world. The concierge team are on hand to give guests tips on the best halal eateries in the capital within walking distance from the hotel, as well as directions to mosques in the area.
Dhs746-1,263 per person. Ongoing. 22 Portman Square, London, www.radissonblu.co.uk/hotel-london (020 7208 6000).