[South Korea / Korea JoongAng Daily / 2017.05.02]
In a survey last year of the world’s most Muslim-friendly countries for travelers, Korea ranked 54th out of 130 countries, falling far behind the global average in terms of halal dining, prayer room availability and language access.
The survey, called the Global Muslim Travel Index, was conducted by MasterCard and CrescentRating, a company that provides information on halal-friendly travel. The survey assessed countries’ convenience, infrastructure and general attitudes toward Muslim travelers.
No. 1 went to Malaysia, where Islam is the state religion and 61.4 percent of the population is Muslim. Since 2009, the Southeast Asian country has been systematically managing its tourism infrastructure through the Islamic Tourism Center, which is directly managed by the secretary general of the Tourism Ministry.
One core role the center has played is establishing standards and certificates for ensuring products and services are strictly halal. Malaysia considers the halal market a major growth engine for the country and hosts global events like the Malaysia International Halal Showcase and the world’s first Islam Tourism Conference set to convene in July.
Malaysia puts particular focus on ensuring quality travel for families, so not just individual restaurants, but also entire hotels have to be halal-certified. Its national mosque, the Masjid Negara, can accommodate up to 15,000 people.
Among non-Muslim-majority nations, neighboring Singapore topped the list. In the city-state, Muslims make up about 15 percent of the population, but its geographic proximity to Malaysia and Indonesia mean the service industry is very experienced with catering to Muslim populations. The city’s Sultan Mosque is designated as a national monument.
Thailand is the second-most preferable non-Muslim-majority country for Muslim travelers. Although more than 90 percent of the country is Buddhist, Thailand has 3,484 religious facilities for Muslims and over 500 halal restaurants nationwide, including those that serve non-Thai food.
Krabi, a renowned tourist site on the west coast, was originally populated by Muslims. The Somkiet Buri Resort there not only provides halal-friendly facilities but also has Muslim employees on hand to help tourists. In 2015, Thailand’s Tourism Authority developed a Muslim tour guide in the form of a mobile app called “Thailand Muslim Friendly.”
In East Asia, Japan was the highest ranked at 34, with particularly good marks for prayer room access and an above-average score for dining options. The best example that proves Japan’s efforts to strengthen its halal infrastructure is Kansai International Airport in Osaka. The airport not only has four halal restaurants, but 16 other eateries there exclude pork and alcohol from their dishes. The airport also has four prayer rooms with gendered spaces.
Japan’s food industry is cooperating as well. The country has around 60 halal restaurants that use traditional sauces and spices, and there are an equal number of religious facilities nationwide.
China, which has a large Muslim minority, was ranked 50, just four steps above Korea. With the global halal market booming and the country’s Muslim population growing, the Chinese government has been pushing to develop the halal industry. It has been holding conferences and seminars, and in 2015, the country built an industrial zone with over 200 companies that sell or manufacture halal products in the city of Wuzhong, where much of the population is Muslim.
Although the country’s share of the global halal market is small at 0.1 percent, China is expected to grow faster in the future as it already has big companies that manufacture and distribute halal products to the local community.
Arman Muslim Food Industrial Group, based in the Muslim-majority province of Xinjiang, provides groceries to over 2,700 franchises and 10,000 other stores in the province, according to the company.