Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

15 Oct, 2001

Islamic Tourism Ministers See Post-9/11 Shift to Intra-Islamic Travel

Affected like all other countries by a decline in visitor arrivals, tourism ministers the world’s 56 largely Islamic countries last week adopted a plan to refocus marketing and promotion strategies at their easiest target markets: the world’s one billion Muslims themselves.

Malaysia, which hosted the two day meeting of tourism ministers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) stands to be a major winner via the adoption of the Kuala Lumpur Program of Action (KLPA), a collection of plans to strengthen tourism infrastructure in the OIC countries, and increase inter- and intra-state travels among Islamic nations via tourism facilitation, tourism marketing and research and training

The OIC has agreed to appoint staff to co-ordinate all the projects to come while the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank has agreed to start funding assistance.

The programme proposes the liberalisation of air service among OIC countries, linkages between OIC tourism training institutions and the regular holding of meetings and workshops amongst the private sector.

The closer co-operation among the Islamic countries comes against the backdrop of widespread bias being faced by Muslim travellers in many parts of the world in the wake of recent terrorist attacks. The KLPA called for the alleviation of all discriminatory measures against Muslims but also sent a clear message to the Muslims: If their business is not welcome in some places, it is more than welcome within the Islamic world itself.

The main target markets are Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE whose well-off citizens are known to spend their summer holidays mainly in Europe and North America, the very places where they are now facing indiscriminate suspicion.

The OIC includes major tourist-attracting countries like Egypt, Jordan, the north Africa countries of Morocco and Tunisia, as well as Indonesia and Malaysia. Other OIC nations like the Gulf emirates are also seeking to promote tourism to prepare for the non-oil era. Thailand is the only non-Islamic country to have an observer status at the OIC, due to the efforts of Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan.

At last week’s meeting, all the OIC countries were asked to come up with their individual action plans. While the resolutions in the KPLA were agreed collectively, countries are free to individually decide whether they are ready to adopt these plans, especially when it pertains to sensitive issues like visa relaxation.

The declaration reaffirmed the importance of the emphasis laid by the World Trade Organization (WTO) on tourism, as a means to promote peace and dialogue among civilisations, which has been mooted by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. It also condemned all forms of violence as detrimental to the growth of tourism. Security and safety is integral to attracting tourists, it added.

The conference passed a unanimous resolution to appeal to the United Nations, recognised international organisations and media to work towards normalcy in the international scene.

Malaysian Culture, Arts and Tourism Minister Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir, who chaired the meeting, agreed that terrorism acts create barriers to the development and promotion of tourism. “We also condemn terrorism in all its manifestation as Islam rejects terrorism in all its forms as well as any action leading to it in any part of the world.

“It also calls for alleviation of all discriminatory measures against travelling Muslims at the borders of several countries,” he said.

He said OIC member states except Afghanistan are peaceful countries but there is a perception that the environment of crisis is everywhere, especially in the Muslim countries. “There is unnecessary cancellation of flights, trips and holidays which have affected the tourism industry. There is also an erosion of confidence in the global economic environment as a result of the crisis situation which is created,” he added.

“The OIC member countries will work towards promoting tourism amongst ourselves and encourage more Muslim people to travel among our own countries and if these steps are taken quickly, we will overcome this short term crisis,” he said.

The ministers also agreed to make efforts at rebuilding the image of the Islamic countries world-wide. Countries like Egypt and Jordan which have been significantly impacted by the tourism downturn are heavily reliant on visitors from Europe and North America.

The first OIC tourism ministers conference was held in Tehran in August 2000. This year’s meeting had a new sense of urgency and a different set of priorities. Malaysia’s Culture, Arts and Tourism ministry secretary-general Tengku Alaudin Tengku Abdul Majid said the response to this year’s meeting was much better with 29 countries participating, including Saudi Arabia.

Iran has offered to establish a centre for tourism development and will soon hold a meeting of tourism experts in the Islamic countries

Indonesia has been assigned to find ways to implement the measures drafted out for tourism facilitation while Malaysia and Iran will oversee marketing and research and training, respectively.

Saudi Arabia’s secretary general of the Supreme Commission for Tourism Sultan Salman Abdel Aziz said Malaysia is culturally “very similar to Saudi Arabia and they feel very close to Malaysians and are proud over their achievements.”

“Malaysia has much more experience in tourism and we hope to start a programme of co-operation between us in which we will send specialists to Malaysia to study how to implement tourism programmes which can help the tourism industry in our country develop as well,” he said.

Comments are closed.