Hotels catering to growing number of Muslim travellers

Marina Mandarin Singapore has set up prayer rooms with ablution facilities near its halal-certified restaurant for their Muslim customers.
Marina Mandarin Singapore has set up prayer rooms with ablution facilities near its halal-certified restaurant for their Muslim customers.PHOTO: MARINA MANDARIN SINGAPORE

They are setting up prayer rooms with ablution facilities and offering iftar room service menus

To cater to a burgeoning number of Muslim travellers to Singapore, hotels are installing prayer rooms, offering iftar room service menus and providing the qibla - or the direction to Mecca - in its guest rooms.

This comes amid a rise in the number of halal-certified premises in town.

The Muslim travel segment is one of the world's fastest-growing tourism sectors with an estimated 117 million Muslim travellers last year, representing close to 10 per cent of the entire travel economy globally. The number is expected to reach 168 million by 2020, with a market value exceeding US$200 billion (S$270 billion).

Singapore welcomed 2.6 million Muslim travellers last year - about 17 per cent of total arrivals.

In February, Marina Mandarin Singapore installed permanent prayer rooms with ablution facilities, near its halal-certified restaurant, for customers breaking fast. It had temporary prayer rooms for Ramadan last year.

Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel The Stamford offered an iftar - or breaking of fast - in-room dining menu offering Arabic mezze, lamb kebabs, briyani, dates and fresh fruit this Ramadan. The service was first made available in 2014.

Other hotels such as the Park Hotel Group, Grand Mercure Singapore Roxy and Royal Plaza on Scotts have qibla directions in their rooms, and offer prayer mats and the Quran upon request.

"Indonesia and Malaysia comprised Singapore's top five source markets in 2015, and we recognise the increasing growth in this segment," said Mr Tejveer Singh, Park Hotel Group's revenue director.

Even as hotels are trying to cater to Muslim guests, the number of halal-certified premises rose to 3,112 last year from 2,568 in 2012, according to the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis). These certified premises include dining establishments, caterers and product manufacturers.

Muis also noted more queries about halal-certified premises from non-Singaporean followers of its Twitter account, especially during the mid-year and end-of-year school holidays.

It receives at least one such query every week, compared with once every few months when the account was first started four years ago, said a Muis spokesman.

These developments reflect strong interest in Singapore as a destination for Muslim tourists.

A study released last month found that for the next five years, Singapore is expected to be the third most attractive destination for Muslim travellers during the fasting month of Ramadan, after Malaysia and Indonesia.

Singapore's consistent daytime temperatures and fasting duration - about 12 hours a day - make it popular among Muslim travellers, alongside other destinations near the equator such as Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia.

But this advantage may not last, going by the inaugural Ramadan Travel Report 2016 by payment firm MasterCard and Muslim travel consultancy CrescentRating.

Ramadan is set to take place earlier in the year over the next 15 years, as it is based on the Islamic calendar which has a 12-month cycle revolving around 355 days.

This means that every year, the fasting month advances by about 10 days. So by 2023, Ramadan will fall during the cooler months in Middle Eastern countries, increasing these destinations' appeal to travellers, the study noted.

The Republic's popularity is likely to dip after the year 2020, with Middle Eastern destinations such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman having cooler weather during Ramadan.

Mr Fazal Bahardeen, chief executive of CrescentRating, said Singapore has to keep improving its facilities and services for Muslims if the country wants to remain popular.

The countries in this region "are competing for the same Muslim market", he said. "I expect to see more younger Muslim travellers (and) millennials who are looking for a different experience. We must enhance the local experience."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 07, 2016, with the headline 'Hotels catering to growing number of Muslim travellers'. Print Edition | Subscribe