Turkey is attracting growing numbers of visitors from the Middle East, according to statistics gathered by the UN World Tourism Association.
The data show that tourist arrivals from the Middle East have risen from 2.1m in 2011 to 3.7m in 2015, the latest year for which figures are available.
More recent figures from the Turkish consulate general suggest strong growth in visitor numbers from the Gulf Cooperation Council countries in the first half of 2017 — an estimated 360,000 travellers, 26 per cent more than in the same period of 2016.
Despite the growing numbers, there is debate over whether Turkey should adopt an accreditation system that would rate accommodation, travel agencies, catering and transportation on how well they meet religious standards.
“Increasingly, our clients are looking for a tailored experience,” says Nabeel Shariff, director of Serendipity Tailormade, a UK-based luxury travel firm that caters for Muslims.
Mr Shariff says halal tourism providers should try to provide unique solutions for Muslims from different countries. However, he says the imposition of a regulatory system could discourage liberal Muslim tourists from visiting.
Halal holidays are a fast-growing sector of the global tourism industry. According to the State of the Global Islamic Economy — an annual report from Thomson Reuters in collaboration with DinarStandard, a US-based strategy and research firm — Muslim-friendly beach resorts are emerging as a high growth sector.
Turkey is the most established market for such beach resorts. The authors estimated that travellers from Saudi Arabia would be the biggest Muslim spenders on global consumer travel, laying out about $19bn in 2015.
Travellers from the UAE were expected to have spent $15bn, Qatar was the third-highest predicted source of tourist spend at $12bn, and Kuwait was ranked fourth at $9bn.
“Turkey is a natural destination,” says Rafi-uddin Shikoh, chief executive at DinarStandard. “The market and opportunity is there.”
He adds: “The needs of Muslim travellers mirror the needs of others in many ways. They want to travel to the same places and have common experiences.
“But certain aspects are unique to their faith, in that they want comfort in the easy availability of halal food. That is easy to find in a country like Turkey.”
While religiously observant Muslim travellers demand certain minimum standards, such as prayer facilities while on holiday, Muslims do not all adhere to the same core tenets of Islamic practice.
Ufuk Secgin, the marketing manager for www.HalalBooking.com, says halal tourists interpret Islamic rules in varying ways. “What’s common is they usually want a beach holiday and indoor and outdoor pools. They want women-only and men-only spa facilities. But while they want halal food and a no-alcohol policy, they don’t want segregation in restaurants. We usually recommend agents should know the destination well before advising clients.”
Luxury halal holidays are favoured by wealthy Muslim travellers from oil-rich Gulf nations. A report published two years ago by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry found that 40 per of outbound global Islamic travel spending was from five countries in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia, followed by Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait.
The same report found that Turkey was the second most popular destination for Muslim tourists after Malaysia.
Once in Turkey, the affluent Islamic tourist can head to five-star halal Turkish resorts such as Angel’s Marmaris, Adin Beach Hotel and Adenya Beach Resort. The hotels tend not to attract western visitors because they only serve halal food, serve no alcohol and have segregated facilities so that women can swim in women-only pools. However, when contacted, all three hotels said they would be happy to host non-Muslim guests so long as they agreed to adhere to the halal rules of the resort.
In other resorts, Muslim visitors who would prefer to minimise the risk of compromising their religious principles, can also hire their own villa with a chef who will cook a halal menu.