Ramadan is a wonderful time of year for Muslims across the world. It is a time of fasting, sacrifice and worship as well as tradition and culture. But it is also a time that can be enjoyed by everyone - no matter what religion you practice. In Ramadan, which takes place in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Dubai offers many opportunities for visitors to embark on a unique cultural experience. Joanna Andrews looks at what it has to offer and where Muslims tend to take their breaks …
As the sun sets over the city, Dubai comes to life during Ramadan. The Muslim holy month has a significant impact on the metropolis. It is a time when the local culture can be truly felt. Shops are open for extended hours and hotels and restaurants are bustling with noise at Iftar (break fast) as people stay up late chatting, eating and drinking Ramadan specials. Many hotels set up colourful Ramadan tents to entertain visitors throughout the evening, and traditional Arabic delicacies can be enjoyed, as the mellow sounds of the oud can be heard.
It’s unlike Dubai at any other time of the year. The usual fast-paced nature of the city fades as it unveils a different, more conservative side - more at roots with its past. People of all nationalities come together to enjoy the festive mood which continues for 30 days. The ending of Ramadan is marked by the holiday of Eid ul-Fitr.
Dubai was recently named one of the top 25 places to visit worldwide in the Traveller Choice Awards 2014 by travel website TripAdvisor, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ranked second behind Malaysia in a report by Crescentrating titled 2014 Ranking of Halal Friendly Holiday Destinations.
Reem El Shafaki, a senior associate at DinarStandard, a New York-based research, advisory and business media consultancy that focuses on Muslim consumers is quoted saying, “Muslim travellers are now a large market that people in the hospitality sector are beginning to pay attention to, and it is certainly worth attracting.” She added, “The total Muslim travel market is larger than the world’s biggest source market, which is Germany, and twice that of China.”
A Growing Business
The Muslim Travel Market segment was estimated to be worth US $140 billion last year according to Crescentrating. That represents nearly 13 per cent of the global travel market. A number of destinations are keen to tap into this segment whether through the guise of religious tourism or targeting advertising by adapting their services to take advantage of the needs of Muslim travellers.
Kevin Griffin, a lecturer in Tourism based in Ireland says there is some evidence that suggests that there are an increased number of Arabs and Muslims who feel somewhat misunderstood and unwelcome in non-Muslim countries, partly due to over-reaction, ignorance or xenophobia. “People from Muslim countries travel predominantly to other Muslim countries,” he says.
Griffin adds that there is a drive for a more authentic experience in religious tourism.
A report authored by Rafi-uddin Shikoh says Muslim tourists may very well be the largest un-tapped niche market. “A market that has a young demographic, is growing in affluence, and is increasingly asserting its unique needs on the travel, tourism and hospitality market,” it says. However it points out that some places are already tapping into this segment like Australia’s Gold Coast which is attracting Muslim tourists by offering a Gold Coast Ramadan Lounge, and Thailand where spa outlets have introduced “Muslimfriendly spas” in a bid to lure tourists from the Middle East and tap into a multi-billion dollar customer base.
The world's Muslim population currently stands at 1.8 billion, with a year-on-year growth of 6.7 per cent. The Muslim lifestyle is centred on food, family friendly environments, and religious practices.
Griffin concurs, “Specific to Islam there appears to be a growing awareness of catering for the needs of the Islamic travellers - food, cultural, gender related and other requirements. These needs are now being realized by the hospitality industry in particular.
The religious tourism industry – or faith tourism - is worth billions each year. According to the World Tourism Organisation, an estimated 300 to 330 million pilgrims visit the world's key religious sites annually. The world’s largest mass religious gathering takes place at the annual Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam, an obligation on every ablebodied Muslim who can afford to do it and a journey with rites that must be performed at a certain time, in a certain way. Each year an estimated 2.5 million Muslim journey the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, home of the prophet Mohammed (PBUH).
Here’s a look at some of the Ramadan specials Habtoor Hotels are offering:
Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumierah
• Mezzerie Iftar - AED 185 per person
• Sohour tent - located on the Peacock Alley terrace
• Grand ballroom will be available for group Iftars and corporate bookings throughout the holy period
• Tel: +971 4 818 2222
The Metropolitan Palace Hotel
• Al Shindagah restaurant - Iftar Buffet AED 119 per person
• Tel: +971 4 205 1552
Habtoor Grand Beach Resort & Spa
• Ramadan tent - opening date 29th June 2014
• Iftar promotion - Al Dhiayfa all day Dining Restaurant located at the hotel lobby level - AED 149 per person
• Tel: +971 4 408 4444