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25 Apr, 2018

12 questions to disrupt the boring programme content of Islamic tourism events

Dubai – The second ATM Global Halal Tourism Summit held at the Arabian Travel Mart on April 24 proved again how the entire travel industry is increasingly becoming a mutual admiration club of people preaching to the converted. As usual, key challenges having a significant impact on travel & tourism flows to, from and within one of the world’s largest lifestyle markets remained off the table.

In the interests of both the Islamic travel & tourism industry and indeed the Muslim world at large, it’s time to change that.

Billed as a follow-up to the inaugural summit in 2017, the program intro promised, “Leading travel professionals from the halal and mainstream travel sector will come together to discuss the development of an industry that is growing at such a fast rate that it should no longer be deemed a ‘niche’.” Further details of the programme and its promised deliverables can be found here: http://arabiantravelmarket.wtm.com/en/Sessions/52325/ATM-Global-Halal-Tourism-Summit

Unfortunately, the outcome was a repetitive rehash of the same topics making the rounds of the numerous summits being held these days on halal tourism, Islamic tourism, Muslim-friendly tourism or whatever else they are called. With a few exceptions, the usual congregation of entrepreneurs, consultants, branding gurus and others landed up covering the same old issues.

Like always, it begins with numbers about the size of the halal tourism market, a demographic breakdown of Muslim millenials and the female market, expenditure patterns, followed by a list of product upgrades and marketing campaigns being taken by various destinations to attract Muslim travellers.

At the ATM, only a few speakers had anything new to offer. The moderators stuck to safe subjects within the limits of politically-correct comfort zones. The audience had minimum opportunity to ask questions or challenge conventional wisdoms; in one panel, no opportunity at all. On the few occasions the audience did participate, the comments from the floor were more interesting than the discussions.

In an era that glorifies the ongoing “disruption” of old-fashioned processes, here are 12 really disruptive questions that Halal/Islamic Tourism Summits need to include on their agendas if they are to become more meaningful and substantive:

1. How is Islamophobia affecting travel & tourism trends and flows worldwide?

2. How has the Trump Administration’s Muslim ban affected travel flows to the United States?

3. Which destinations are perceived as being the worst for Muslim travellers, and which ones the best?

4. Which countries have the worst visa restrictions for Muslim travellers?

5. What recourse is available for Muslims who fall victim to discrimination or racial profiling?

6. Why don’t organisations like PATA, UNWTO, IATA and others speak out more forcefully against Islamophobia, racial profiling, visa restrictions, etc?

7. Why do Islamic destinations, hotels, airlines and others advertise in the same media that deliberately present a negative image of Muslims? Why don’t they back media that strives to do exactly the opposite?

8. What can be done specifically to improve the quality and content of communications by the Islamic travel sector?

9. How do suppliers of Islamic travel products and services deal with the confusion of halal certification?

10. What can be done to upgrade the quality of many Islamic monuments, museums and heritage sites around the world?

11. How do hotels deal with the challenge of balancing both Chinese and Islamic visitors, which are almost 100% apart in their cultural and dietary requirements?

12. Why don’t Islamic tourism forums provide more opportunities for young Muslim entrepreneurs to share their personal experiences and life stories which are usually are much more interesting and inspiring than the panel presentations?

Are these all important questions? Of course they are. Will you see them being discussed anywhere? No? Why not?

All over the world, the power, prestige and influence of the Islamic countries is ebbing. They have lost control of the agenda and are losing control of their destinies. A primary contributing factor is the tendency to sweep key issues under the carpet and run for cover when confronted with challenges that are considered too politically incorrect to bring out into the public domain.

Halal/Islamic tourism summits offer the industry a golden opportunity to disrupt the stereotype, hackneyed agenda, turn the tables and demand reverse accountability. Certainly, there must be at least a few Muslim travel industry companies and organisations with the backbone to put the above questions on the table and trigger a new kind of disruption.