KUALA LUMPUR – Tapping into a market that is largely untouched, leaders of Malaysia tourism industry are applying new Islamic features to their hotels to attract a growing number of Muslim tourists around the world.
"People are looking for something which suits their lifestyle," Muhamad Azmir Bin Abdul Rahim, operations manager at the three-star Ampang hotel, one of the group's four properties in Malaysia, told Aljazeera on Friday, November 23.
"They feel that they need to come and stay here where they can get all these things like the halal food and the surau (prayer room)."
In a bid to lure Muslim tourists, Malaysia hotels were changing their setting to make it more comfortable to Muslim tourists.
At Abdul Rahim’s hotel in the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Ampang, Quranic verses are piped through loudspeakers in the hallway 24 hours a day.
Designing a special Islamic floor, the hotel reserves some rooms for Muslim guests only.
In these rooms, a Quran sits on the bedside table, and garments for men and women to wear while praying are neatly folded on the bed.
In the bathrooms, a dedicated ablution tap is provided for guests to perform the ritual cleansing that Muslims must complete before praying.
Downstairs in the lobby, the call to prayer sounds five times a day, calling guests and staff to the prayer room, where one of the hotel's four resident imams will lead the faithful.
The concept of halal, -- meaning permissible in Arabic -- has traditionally been applied to food.
Muslims should only eat meat from livestock slaughtered by a sharp knife from their necks, and the name of Allah, the Arabic word for God, must be mentioned.
Now other goods and services can also be certified as halal, including cosmetics, clothing, pharmaceuticals and financial services.
A recent study released by Singapore-based halal travel specialist Crescentrating and DinarStandard has expected influx of Muslim holidaymakers over the next decade.
The study, conducted in 47 countries, found that spending by Muslim tourists is growing faster than the global rate and is forecast to reach $192 billion a year by 2020, up from $126 billion in 2011.
Competing with Turkey and Emirates for Muslim tourists, Malaysia claimed the top spot by attracting the most Muslim tourists in 2011.
"Muslim travelers appreciate that we understand their cultural differences and needs," said Andrew Oldfield, Tourism Queensland's marketing manager for Gulf countries.
"It leaves a lasting impression and hopefully will be a small part of larger stories and positive experiences that travelers take home with them and will encourage repeat holidays or other family and friends to visit us."
Malaysia began providing services specifically for Muslims in 2006, and now attracts mainly Muslim guests from Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United States, Australia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Singapore and India as well as Malaysia.
Along with offering special floors for its Muslim guests, Malaysia hotels offer halal food to its guests.
Religious scholars and imams from around the world often give lectures in the prayer room, and every Tuesday night guests can attend a free session where Islamic scholars translate the Quran from Arabic into English.
At the reception desk, guests can leave queries about Islam in a box marked "Ask Ustaz", or religious teacher, who answers their written queries via email or phone.
Azmir, the operations manager, said the hotel group was considering expanding overseas in places such as the Middle East, Korea and Myanmar.
"What marks us apart from the other hotels is the Islamic concept and in time to come, I hope there will be more Islamic hotels," he said.
Muslim Malays form about 60 percent of Malaysia's 26-million population, while Christians make up around 9.1 percent.
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