Time to pitch the 'halal holiday'
Agents must find a way to tackle the Ramadan conundrum
Speaking to travel agents this month it seems that this year’s summer holiday season has offered up something of a mixed bag of challenges.
While most agents reported that they were rushed off their feet in early summer, with business well up on last year and plane seats selling out to the most popular destinations throughout July; come August and the onset of Ramadan, and travel demand somewhat predictably took a nose dive.
One agent said he had effectively “lost one full month of summer bookings” due to Arab nationals cutting short their holidays and returning home in time for the start of the holy month.
Ramadan is of course a time traditionally spent at home with the family – bad news for travel agents as for at least the next three years it is set to edge ever further and further into the peak summer holiday season.
Next year, it will begin around August 1, the year after on July 20 and in 2013, on July 9 – signalling potentially millions in lost revenue for travel agents if big-spending Arab clients choose not to pack their bags and escape the Gulf heat as usual, but to remain at home instead.
Clearly it’s time for travel agents to get innovative. There are plenty of Muslim destinations around the world where agents could devise special packages offering up a different kind of Ramadan experience to their clients – Turkey, Egypt, Malaysia and Jordan all spring to mind as places that would offer a welcoming religious experience, plus the ideal climate to escape the heat of the Gulf while fasting.
But it’s not just Muslim countries that have latched on to the potential to woo Muslim guests over the holy month.
Popular destinations in Europe and Australia have been bending over backwards to accomodate the Middle East market, with hotels laying on iftars and suhours, as well as buses to ferry tourists to nearby mosques, shops and swimming pools opening later, and even special night-time prayers – all with the added attraction of being far from the sweltering heat.
If you pitch it to them right, maybe your big-spending clients will still decide to combine the holy month with a holiday next year after all.