Malaysia ranks first again in global Muslim travel index despite pandemic


Malaysia has many beautiful places that attract Muslim travellers, such as the mosque in Putrajaya. - MOHD SAHAR MISNI/The Star

Malaysia has maintained its position as the best destination for Muslim travellers even amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The country once again came first in the list of best Muslim-friendly holiday destinations, according to the MasterCard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2021.

Malaysia has remained in the top destination since the launch of the index in 2015. The GMTI monitors the overall performance of the Muslim travel market.

Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri said Malaysia is committed to continue developing the Muslim-friendly travel segment, sometimes referred to as halal travel.

"We have developed Malaysia to be a Muslim-friendly tourism and hospitality destination, offering unique and meaningful experiences," she said during her keynote speech at the Halal In Travel Global Summit 2021.

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Nancy added that Malaysia is a place where Muslim travellers will feel comfortable in as the country caters to their basic faith needs.

"Malaysia, being a Muslim majority country offers many eateries that are certified halal, and feature many tourism related activities that does not contradict with Islamic principles.

"This has contributed towards making Malaysia being recognised as the top Muslim friendly destination," she said.

Nancy also highlighted the contributions of the Islamic Tourism Centre (ITC), an agency under the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry in charge of Islamic tourism-related affairs, towards the recognition.

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Keeping travel halal amid pandemic

The GMTI 2021 ranked 140 destinations that account for more than 95% of Muslim visitor arrivals.

Malaysia is followed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia in second and third place respectively. Indonesia and United Arab Emirates rounded off the top five destinations.

Meanwhile, Singapore remains the only non-OIC destination in the top 20 GMTI 2021 ranking.

CrescentRating founder and chief executive officer Fazal Bahardeen said GMTI 2021 will help the destinations prepare post-pandemic tourism recovery.

"The pandemic has had a colossal impact on the travel sector. Muslim (tourist) arrivals dropped to 42 million in 2020 from an all-time high of an estimated 160 million in 2019.

"As we start this recovery journey, we project that the Muslim travel market will return to the 2019 levels by 2023," he said.

According to Fazal, the latest index took into consideration the evolving concept of travel bubbles and corridors.

Contactless travel

The GMTI 2021 also noted some shift in travel preferences due to the pandemic. One such change is the rise of "contactless travel".

It's a trend that is here to stay moving forward in a post-pandemic environment, said Mastercard division president (Southeast Asia Emerging Markets) Safdar Khan.

"The pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of the airline industry. Developing a digital-first, low-touch, contactless customer experience will be a pivotal driver in the travel industry’s recovery roadmap," he said.

According to the Mastercard New Payments Index, 94% of consumers in Asia Pacific will consider using at least one new payment method, such as QR codes, digital or mobile wallets, cryptocurrencies, biometrics, and others in the coming year.

Safdar said digital payments will be instrumental in helping the travel industry recover once restrictions are lifted.

"Asia Pacific is renowned for its popularity with Muslim travelers. As the world begins to open again, understanding how best to meet the needs of this important demographic will be crucial to ensuring that the travel sector’s recovery is both sustainable and inclusive," he said.

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