Indonesia has proposed that member countries of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) implement a visa-free arrangement for tourists within the co-operation. This could also boost Shariah tourism in the region, said Indonesia’s Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Mari Elka Pangestu (PICTURED) at the OIC’s International Forum on Islamic Tourism in Jakarta on June 2.
Countries in Southeast Asia have stepped up their efforts to welcome more tourists from the Middle East in order to increase their share in tourism receipts from Islamic travellers. According to latest available figures for 2012 from the World Travel and Tourism Council, Muslim tourists spend about $137bn on travel, about 12.5% of the global tourism spending, and the growth potential is seen solid on the back of growing affluence of a Muslim middle class.
Indonesia has made a step forward by proposing that member countries of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC), which comprises 57 member states, implement a visa-free arrangement for tourists within the co-operation, modelled after the visa-free programme of Asean member states. This could also boost Shariah tourism in the region, said Indonesia’s Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Mari Elka Pangestu at the OIC’s International Forum on Islamic Tourism in Jakarta on June 2.
Indonesia is one Asean country that experiences rapidly rising tourism numbers from the Middle East, namely Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt, with double-digit growth rates in arrivals from January to April 2014.
Malaysia also has beefed up activities to market the country as a leading destination for Islamic tourism. To promote the Visit Malaysia Year 2014, Malaysia’s Minister of Tourism and Culture Malaysia Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz in May visited Dubai, Qatar and Jordan, whereby the latter is seen as a rapidly growing and increasingly important Middle East tourism source market for Malaysia. Among non-Muslim countries, the Philippines also reported strongly growing arrivals from the GCC. The country welcomed about 80,000 visitors from the Gulf in 2013 — an increase of around 15% from 2012, and aims at increasing the number by 20% in 2014 by aggressively stepping up its marketing efforts and improve air connectivity by providing more seats, additional frequencies and more destinations. Saudi Arabia was Philippines’ top regional source market last year with 38,969 visitors, up 25% year-on-year. The UAE followed with 15,155 visitors, recording a growth rate of around 15%.
Singapore is also positioning itself as a destination for Muslim holidays, pointing out that it ranks number six on the list of most Muslim-friendly countries for tourists as per the Islamic travel ranking by halal travel specialist Crescentrating. Some 15% of Singapore’s population are Muslim, and there are 70 mosques in the city state.
Last but not least, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is working hard to counter the slowdown in tourism caused by the month-long unrest and the military coup on May 22. The organisation had a prominent appearance at the Arab Travel Mart conference held in May in Dubai, with TAT Governor Thawatchai Arunyik saying he was confident that Middle East countries will “consider relaxing their travel warnings to Thailand” which would “create more confidence to visit Thailand again.” He added that he still maintains his projection of 696,000 Middle East tourists to travel to Thailand in 2014, up from 630,000 in the previous year as “all tourism attractions and facilities are operating normal”. The current military government has even introduced free transport and accommodation packages for tourists.
Visa-free travel, better connectivity to lure Mideast tourists to SE Asia