DEVELOPING MUSLIM-FRIENDLY TOURISM: IDENTIFYING AND UNDERSTANDING NEEDS AND EXPECTATIONS OF MUSLIM TRAVELLERS
AbdulKadirHaji DinUniversitiUtara Malaysia,Sintok
The meaning of tourism development: growth, distribution, sustainability. In the MFT mode of development political sustainability is extremely important.Tourism development policy agenda includes the choice of Muslim-friendly option among others. The concept of Muslim-friendly tourism is a form of government intervention in the market.Doing market research is a strategic need for MFT business intelligence.The different categories of Muslim travelers: from religious to secular, each with particular needs and preferences beside the general needs.Muslim-friendly traveler itself is a culturally heterogeneous group with different leisure preferences.
IDENTIFYING THE NEEDS OF MUSLIM TRAVELERS
The needs of Muslim travelers: current understanding.Much of the literature describes MFT in association with the provision of accommodation preferred by Muslims which includes: halal food and beverage, provision of prayer facilities, separate recreational facilities for female guests, bidets in the bathroom and other presumed preferences.TheMaslowianmodel of basic needs may be applied to the MFT segment.Extending Maslow’s notion of basic needs to the Muslim traveler requires integration of higher order needs such as need for spiritual fulfilment.Policy options: How to manage MFT mode of tourism development.Issues of governance: control, accommodate or laissez-faire system?
Assumptions underlying the concept of Muslim-friendly tourism is that there exist tendencies for unfriendly or evenIslamophobichost situations.Imagined needs cover the entire system of prohibitions and restrictions.A checklist of the basic needs, from physiological to need for curiosity.The less mentioned needs such as spiritual and social needs.Intangible aspects such as a welcoming and friendly host needs emphasis.The concept of al-taaroufand a warm welcome as clearly enjoined in Surah Al-Dhariyatverses 24-27. It calls for the Muslim host to greet warmly and treat visitors withhonour.
MFT PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT
MFT product development can be regarded as a five-step exercise in product innovation.Identifying ideas for product development can be through brain storming.Proceeds to evaluation of ideasMarket analysis and evaluationMarketing and product launchSale and monitoringThe textbook approach and the reality. In practice such a complete cycle is unheard of.
Expectation is a critical element in the evaluation of a destination.The expectation-disconfirmation paradigm of visitor satisfaction studies.It is presumed that if the visitor is satisfied s/he will return on another visit.In this era of widespread ICT especially the social media, intending travelers would have a clear idea on what to expect. But the experience on the ground will still depend on the actual encounter.Data from COMECEC (2016) indicates that over 90% of the respondents surveyed regard friendliness of the locals as an important factor in their trip. In Malaysia friendliness of the locals has always been rated as the biggest contributor to visitor satisfaction.
THE MEANING OF FRIENDLINESS IN MFT
Merriam Webster defines friendly as showing kindly interest and goodwill, not hostile but cheerful and comforting. The second meaning refers to how easy to use or understand a method or approach. In this sense Muslim-friendly Tourism gives the connotation of being friendly to Muslim travelers. In principle this value orientation is not intended for pecuniary gain as the sole motive since MFT is meant to be a spiritual call to be hospitable to all humans.The bigger goal as in other ethnic or tribal formations is for hospitable reciprocal treatment of co-religionists so that they may establish social network with others for the benefit of the entire Muslim community.
MFT INSIDER-OUTSIDER PERSPECTIVES
Given the growth scenario in the Muslim market many destinations, for examples Japan, Korea and China are active supporters of MFT. But not all members of the community even in the Muslim majority countries share such a disposition, especially with regard to the requirements of alcohol-free beverage and conservativeness with regard to dress code and entertainment.It is thus important for MFT planners to be mindful of the position of the non-Muslim host to avoid any possibility of opposition to the development of MFT. The Quran is explicit with regard to preference of friendship (Surah Al Imran Verse 28) in terms of mutual support in halal businesses.
IMPLICATIONS FOR HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT
MFT is an emergent form of hospitality practice that requires systematic training in Islamic hospitality.From the hosts’ standpoint service providers must treat guests as a religious duty, clearly enjoined in Islam. They need to be geographically and culturally literate about other Muslim (and non-Muslim) cultures.In particular guest contact personnel must be adequately trained in small talks and hospitality conversation so that they will be able to entertain their guests from other parts of the Muslim world. Such attentiveness was lacking in the past.A basic training in hospitality practice which comes as a cycle is instructive. Modules on Malaysian hospitality (MH) calledMesraMalaysia expose trainees to the cycle which begins with welcome and ends in good-bye.
Muslim-friendly tourism is an emergent mode of tourism development which capitalizes on the growing world Muslim travelers. It is essentially a niche market positioning which is intended to encourage reciprocal visits among Muslim countries. In so doing it facilitates the call for Muslims to travel across the earth in search of knowledge and awareness of God’s creations.Muslim travelers have their particular needs and expectations when traveling abroad but there is such a wide range of Muslim identities across the globe which makes their specific needs and expectations equally differentiated, notwithstanding the common claim to the Islamic identity.To be sustainable this market niche will have to maintain a politically appealing image based on peace and other universal values such as cleanliness, courtesy, pro-poor attitude and politically correct value system without compromising the basic Islamic precepts.