SPECIAL: Halal Holidays Garner Momentum

“Halal Tourism” is a new concept in the travel sector along with many other specialist holiday programs. Halalbooking.com is one of the leading pioneers in setting custom-made holidays for Muslim travelers….writes Mohammed Reza Amirina

The term “Halal” has emerged as a new trend in the world of marketing, not only as a brand, identifying the meat being slaughtered in certain ways, but also as a wider concept in the global travel industry. The literal meaning of the word Halal is “permissible” according to Islamic Law, in contrast to “Haram”, which denotes something that is forbidden. So, what is Halal and what is Haram? It is commonly used in relation to food and eating habits in accordance with the Sharia (Islamic Law). The deeper dimensions of Halal point to purity and cleanliness.

The growth of the Muslim community in Europe has brought a wider awareness of Islamic terminology. I remember how in the 1980s there were only a few Halal butcher shops in London but now one can easily find dedicated Halal butcher stands in very large superstores in major cities in the UK. Second and third generation immigrants in the UK and Europe have integrated into all aspects of life in their new countries maintaining their values and beliefs. They have established schools, mosques, and businesses.

New ideas on holidaying have sprung up in response to the demand from the Muslim community. Well educated and careful to maintain the ideological principles of their ancestors, they seek to follow the words of the prophet Mohammed and the Quran. “Halal Tourism” is a new concept in the travel sector along with many other specialist holiday programs. Halalbooking.com is one of the leading pioneers in setting custom-made holidays for Muslim travelers.

I asked Ufuk Seçgin, Chief Marketing Officer of HalalBooking, how and when the idea of Halal resorts was initiated? Ufuk explained: “There have always been ‘dry’ or alcohol-free hotels in Muslim-majority countries, and to my knowledge the first halal-friendly hotel offering privacy for women, was opened by a Turkish Muslim entrepreneur in the popular Turkish seaside holiday resort of Didim more than 20 years ago. It is really only in the past decade, however, that the concept has become more popular and increasingly widely known. Over the past few years, more and more luxury all-inclusive halal-friendly hotels have been opening to cater for this market. In particular, the Turkish Mediterranean resort of Alanya has become a focus for these resorts. The bed capacity in this region alone has more than quadrupled in the last 5 years.”

Halal holiday resorts are not just about not eating pork or disallowing access to alcohol. It is also about the choice. It is about your prime desire to spend your time in an environment more exclusively arranged, meeting your principles and objectives in life and in practice. It was once a dream for a Muslim family to have the opportunity, particularly for a woman, to swim in a private beach without being seen or disturbed by men or a man to bathe in an exclusive family beach. It was hard to imagine how you could separate men and women along a public beach. The Muslim family living in the UK used to travel to Islamic countries along the Mediterranean Sea such as Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt but often veiled women could only be an observer.

Halal resorts in Turkey have made it happen in a country which is secular and moderately liberal. There are several exclusive Halal resorts near Antalya and Alanya offering secluded beaches and swimming pools. The area is fully covered by large curtains. Female security guards prevent cameras or mobile phones from being taken in and Muslim women can dress freely as they wish in a bikini or their desired outfit.

Ufuk told me about the impact of the Halal resorts in Turkey and a growing awareness of the halal-friendly tourism sector worldwide. Ufuk explained, “The increasing demand for halal resorts has also led to rising standards. In 2017 the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism added halal tourism to their 2023 Vision. Countries as diverse as Japan, Spain and South Africa are now courting this market. The halal-friendly resorts in Turkey are our top-selling hotels. Most of our clients come from Europe, from countries such as Germany, Belgium and the UK, where Turkey is already a popular destination. They tell us that they choose halal-friendly resorts so that they don’t have to worry about what they can or can’t eat. They prefer to avoid alcohol and be in a family-friendly environment, where they feel confident that their children will be happy and safe. The extensive women-only facilities including beach sunbathing and swimming areas, swimming pools and spas are also a big draw! Women’s beach and swimming pool areas have only female staff and tight security ensures that Muslim women can feel comfortable swimming or sunbathing in a bikini or swimsuit if they wish, in a completely female environment. No mobile phones are allowed to ensure total privacy.”

We stayed two nights at Wome Deluxe hotel; a luxurious five-star halal resort built in 2015 within a 120,000m² pine forest in Antalya’s Avsallar region, 26 Km from Alanya. The hotel has 535 rooms, with beautiful parkland overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The ambience inside the lobby around the cafeteria and a large terrace is very lively and active. Even late in the evening, families are partying, chatting and playing games. The public grounds and common areas outside the main building in the open grounds are populated with tall palm trees. The atmosphere outdoor is also very vibrant, as I could see families, men, and women with young children heading for playgrounds and pools. The male and female swimming area and spa sections are segregated. The male swimming pool and the public family beach are packed full of people, enjoying a good time under the sun.

The next day, early in the morning before opening time we had a tour of the female swimming area of the Wome Deluxe Hotel. In 10,000m2 woodland area the pool areas are surrounded by landscaped gardens under palm trees. The large complex, even more impressive than the male section, is just like a little paradise with several bed coaches and bamboo design huts. The exclusive female section was set in several levels with all amenities leading to enclosed private seawater.

The women have the best of two worlds. They could also swim in the hotel private beach for families wearing their burkinis. Burkinis have become more popular and a great option for hijabi women to enjoy swimming in the public seaside beaches. A burkini consists of a headscarf, a shirt, and leggings made of very light materials. You can find them in several different colours and designs, fully covering the body just like a wet suit. You can buy them in Halal resorts or shops in the bazaar of seaside cities in Turkey.

Another unique principle of halal holidays is a no alcohol policy throughout a resort. A family with children prefers to spend time in a resort which is free from serving alcohol. Food is also very important. All-inclusive hotels provide a wide variety of choices from BBQ meat and fish, a variety of rice plates to vegetarian dishes. Some believe that all-inclusive hotels often compromise the quality of foods due to mass preparation. But I found the Wome Deluxe buffet restaurant offering the best of Turkish cuisine.

Yusuf Gerceker, the general manager of Wome Deluxe Hotel explained to me the concept of halal friendly resorts. He said, “We are making the Wome Deluxe, a nonalcoholic hotel and a halal friendly resort with separate spa and swimming area for men and women, and prayer halls. This idea is getting bigger and bigger in Turkey and around the world. We have a good partnership with HalalBooking.com. We are going to attend the World Travel Market in London and ITB in Berlin together with HalalBooking.com to present the concept of halal resorts to the world.”

Meryem Kizakli, a tour operator based in the city of Heilbronn in Germany explained to me why she prefers halal resorts, “On my vacation I want to relax, go to the beach without feeling uncomfortable about the looks I get from around me and don’t have to think about whether the food is Halal or not.” She continues, ”I am glad that Halal resorts observe Islamic values.”

I was wondering whether non-Muslim families would also fancy going to Halal resorts. Could people see the Halal model of a holiday such as another type of a healthy concept in a conservative environment, acting with more reservation and modesty in practice? There are different types of holiday concepts such as health farms, yoga retreats, Ayurveda centers, adult only resorts etc. Why not provide Halal resorts for everyone, Muslims and non-Muslims.

Joanna Marsh, Press Officer at Halalbooking.com said: “The women’s pool and beach areas are a big attraction in these resorts. They allow women the privacy to swim and sunbathe in a completely female environment. There is even a section of the sea, which is closed off, so that women can swim in the sea without being seen from outside. All staff are female, security is tight, and no mobile phones are allowed. The atmosphere there is really warm and friendly. As a non-Muslim woman I personally find it very refreshing to be in an all-female environment, where there’s no un-wanted attention from men.”

Rayhana Mohammad Harajali, a tour operator who works in Beirut in Lebanon, told me, “In Lebanon, we don’t have halal concepts. Even if there is a ladies only beach, it is open and can be seen by boats and Jet skiers.” Rayhana explains, “We have a lot of demands from Muslims in Lebanon to visit Halal resorts. At the moment, we aren’t getting any demands from non-Muslims. I really thought Halal resorts were only attractive for Muslims. When I was visiting Angel’s Marmaris Hotel in Marmaris/Muğla region in Turkey, I noticed two families, one from Germany and another one from Russia.” Reyhana continues, “They were natives of Germany and Russia. I asked them you are non-Muslims and not veiled, why did you choose Halal resorts? They told me that they are a conservative family who don’t drink alcohol and don’t go to pubs or mixed beaches. They are happy with this kind of arrangement. They enjoy their privacy without any stress.”

I asked Ufuk about the Halal resorts for everyone, Muslims and Non-Muslims. Ufuk said; “The concept of HalalBooking.com is to filter accommodation by halal-friendly filters such as alcohol-free areas, availability of halal food and women-only leisure facilities, thereby allowing our customers to choose the aspects which are important to them. Of course, there could be guests choosing an alcohol-free hotel for reasons other than religion. Our private villas for example, offer completely private swimming pools, which are not overlooked in any way, and this would certainly be popular with many families. Since we don’t monitor the religion of our guests, we have no way of knowing this. I think it is safe to assume, however, that most non-Muslims who travel with us to halal-friendly resorts, do so because they are travelling with Muslim friends or family. There is absolutely no reason why non-Muslims should not feel completely comfortable in halal-friendly resorts, as long as they follow the hotel’s policies.”

We also stayed two nights at the five-star Adenya Hotel & Resort, 4km away from Wome Deluxe Hotel. Adenya was also a halal resort in a different setting and standard, but we enjoyed the facilities and loved the relaxing environment and seafront beauties.

The concept of Halal resorts was a new experience for me, which proved to be something more than what I expected. It is a devotional holiday break beyond a simple sand and sun vacation. I learned that Halal resorts could give Muslims and non-Muslims a choice based on a certain lifestyle. It is all about the quality of staying true to one’s customs and traditions, embracing a certain philosophy and way of life. Halal holidays are a way to go on vacation beyond just observing religious boundaries.

(Mohammad Reza Amirinia travelled as a guest of HalalBooking.com, the leading international search and booking platform for halal-friendly holidays worldwide. He stayed at the Wome Deluxe Hotel and the Adenya Hotel and Resort, in Alanya, Turkey. Images and story © Mohammed Reza Amirina For more images of Turkey and the halal resorts click here or go to http://www.amirinia.com/turkey)