The Rise of Halal-Friendly Tourism

Pious Muslims seeking alternatives to the boozy fleshpots of the Mediterranean and Aegean now have their own, increasingly popular all-inclusives

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The “halal-friendly” tourism industry is the fastest growing global travel sector. For observant Muslims looking for a package holiday in the sun, the halal holiday market fits their religious requirements of piety. Halal hotels and resorts are increasingly prevalent in Turkey, with many existing hotels pivoting away from regular package holidays and catering instead to the halal travel market.

Popular with European Muslims and the domestic Turkish base, the beach resorts are mostly spread across the southern Turkish coastline. They capitalize on the sense of alienation many observant Muslims say they have on a standard package beach holiday. The Mediterranean and Aegean coastlines are known to be party spots during the summer months, with resorts and rentals catering to all budgets. The familiar sight of tipsy, heavily sun-kissed Russians and northern Europeans still prevails, but the halal-conscious travelers are becoming more numerous along these shores, although they won’t often be seen.

Halal-friendly hotels obviously don’t allow alcohol on site and serve only halal meals. They have gender-segregated swimming pools, spas, gyms, and beach areas, and they enforce a modest dress code for women in common areas.

Ufuk Seçgin, a senior executive at HalalBooking, one of the biggest players in halal-friendly travel, says his company currently works with more than 83,000 hotels across 50 countries.

“Turkey is by far the most popular destination for our customers, as it offers world-leading halal-friendly beach resorts with halal features,” he said.

The resorts also offer on-site prayer and mosque facilities and have erected large screens and walls to ensure the female-only areas can’t be seen by anyone from any of the hotel’s rooms or even by those at sea, guaranteeing total privacy. Catching up with this newer customer base, many hotels in southern Turkey have invested in converting their premises for halal-conscious guests, building dividing walls halfway through swimming pools and secluded walkways between “ladies-only” areas.

COVID-19 has of course had a dramatic effect on the global travel industry. As travel returns, even as the virus continues to plague parts of the world, including Turkey, the segregated and secluded nature of the halal-friendly tourism industry may end up protecting its clients from the virus and keeping guests socially distanced.

“It is clear that it’s easier for alcohol-free resorts to implement social distancing measures and that many halal-friendly resorts provide more space for their guests, which also helps,” said Seçgin. Clients are a mixture of young couples and large families who have little need to interact with other guests, so with a few tweaks, the entire setup can be well-suited to fit into the COVID-safe “new normal.”

The ongoing debate and politicization in many European countries surrounding Muslim women’s clothing, including the burkini, may be feeding the growth of the halal tourism industry, too. In these politically and socially polarizing times, some might view the growth in the halal tourism sector as further segregating and dividing people, Muslim from non-Muslim. In reality, it seems to be a sought-after market with a niche audience, much like LGBTQ-friendly travel options. People naturally want to support their own communities financially and enjoy their holidays in a welcoming and understanding setting.

Turkey has emerged from a severe third wave of the coronavirus, and almost all restrictions have been lifted. Still, the tourism industry that Turkey so heavily relies on may face another difficult season this summer. But with Turkish nationals making up the largest share of customers in the halal industry, hotels may be more inclined to convert their pools and common spaces, and this niche sector may be spared some of the damage afflicting the broader tourism industry.

Beds, a Quran, and a TV remote in a room of the Modern Saraylar hotel in southern Turkey.

Protective screens surround the women-only pool and beach area of the Wome Deluxe hotel in southern Turkey.

An early-morning view over the Adin Beach Hotel. The white screens divide the resort into male, mixed, and female-only areas.

Burkini on sale in a shop at the Wome Deluxe hotel.

Muhammed (center) from Bradford, England, plays with his children on the mixed-gender beach of the Wome Deluxe hotel.

A man takes a water slide at the Adin Beach hotel in southern Turkey.

Guests at the Wome Deluxe hotel pose for photographs in the gardens of the hotel, which overlook the Mediterranean Sea.

A woman serves welcome drinks to arriving guests in the lobby of the Wome Deluxe halal hotel in southern Turkey.

A range of burkinis on sale in a shop at the Selge Beach Resort & Spa hotel.

Kübra Aktürk and her 3 year old daughter Aysima play together on the mixed gender beach at the Wome Deluxe halal hotel near Alanya, Turkey.

All photos were taken by Bradley Secker

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