Muslim-friendly tourism in Spain is on the rise. With more Muslims travelling to the Iberian peninsula to explore its rich Islamic history, a fledgling industry has sprung up to provide Halal food and services, as well as tailored tours.
Predictions estimate that in 2023, the number of international tourists who visit the country will reach 85 million – 16.4% more than in 2022 – and many of these tourists will be Muslim.
Spain’s tourism industry greatly benefits from visitors coming from Muslim-majority countries. According to a recent report, Turkey, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia are among the top 25 countries whose residents visited Spain in 2022.
The Spanish Halal Institute has stated that many Muslims coming from Western countries are not accounted for in the statistics, which means that the actual percentage of Muslim visitors is even greater. The reason behind this trend is quite apparent: Spain and the heritage of Al-Andalus are a significant source of Muslim pride.
“Spain is gradually becoming more accommodating towards Muslim travellers. In addition to an increasing number of hotels and establishments catering to the specific needs of Muslim clients, government institutions are also working to make Spain a more Muslim-friendly destination”
Until recently, Muslim tourists visiting Spain had limited options for Muslim-friendly spaces and Islam-oriented tourist plans, which were primarily available in the region of Andalucía. However, the situation is evolving. Halal tourism is thriving in Spain, and it is no longer restricted to Andalucía.
Now, Muslim visitors can enjoy a comfortable stay and immerse themselves in the rich history of Muslim Spain across the country.
Islam requires adherence to certain lifestyle guidelines as a commitment to the religion. One of these guidelines is consuming Halal foods, which are prepared and handled in accordance with Islamic teachings. Additionally, it is important to pray five times a day, even when travelling.
Celia Rodríguez, a Spanish revert from the city of Barcelona, says when travelling across Spain she misses Halal options in hotels and restaurants, and where to find mosques or spaces to perform prayers.
“As a local, I know how to adapt to Spanish cuisine and how to order so that I can avoid non-Halal products. I also know how to find some things that might not be indicated. But for Muslim tourists coming from other countries, it will be difficult,” she says.
“Companies, restaurants and hotels want to address the Muslim public but do not know their needs, nor do they know how to communicate with them,” says Aicha Fernández, who shares the history of Muslim Spain across social media, and has recently launched a project called Halal Experience. She has started educating businesses on how to deal with Muslim clients and is already organising Halal Experience’s first in-person seminar in Córdoba.
“Halal Experience wants to provide companies with help so that Muslim clients can have a better experience and find Spain more attractive as a Muslim-friendly destination,” Aicha tells The New Arab. “Now, only Andalucía is seen as a Muslim-friendly destination, but Spain as a country has a lot to offer.”
‘Andalucía is Al-Andalus, but Al-Andalus is not Andalucía, it is much more’
Aicha’s project aims to do more than just help companies accommodate Muslim needs; it also aims to promote Spain as a country where people can learn about the history of Islam and its heritage, beyond Andalucía.
Aicha organises walking tours to showcase the Muslim heritage of the city of Toledo, located an hour from Madrid. Meanwhile, Rafael Martínez, her colleague in the Spanish capital, leads an initiative that walks people through the Muslim and Arab origins of Madrid, which was named Mayrit by its founder, Emir Mohammed I.
“Andalucía is Al-Andalus, but Al-Andalus is not Andalucía, it is much more,” Aicha explains. “We think that Al-Andalus is what only remains in that region and there is little else. We forget about Soria, Zaragoza, Madrid, Toledo, Cacéres, Badajoz.”
Aicha and Rafael are not alone in recognising the potential of diversifying the tourism options for Muslim travellers and people interested in Muslim Spain. Bárbara Ruiz-Bejarano, Director of Las Fuentes Foundation for the diffusion of Islamic heritage in Spain, also sees the opportunity.
“Muslim-friendly tourism is a chance to develop inland tourism. After all, Muslim tourists are not looking for sun and sand. They prefer a slow-paced, cultural and historical tourism experience, rather than one that involves excessive drinking and partying,” she told The New Arab. “Unfortunately, we are not taking advantage of this opportunity, and it is one that should pique the interest of some companies.”
Many companies are starting to show interest in the Muslim market due to its economic potential. According to Aicha Fernández, the profile of Muslim clients tends to be upper-middle class and they prefer group trips and longer stays. When coming from countries like the United States or Indonesia, they usually do not stay for just two days.
The Spanish Halal Institute is responsible for accrediting companies and services with official Halal stamps in Spain, parts of Europe, and Latin America. The institute has seen exponential growth in the interest for the market in Spain and beyond.
The institute claims that Spanish companies interested in certification have increased from 100 to over 500 since 2010. This interest may have been driven by the financial crisis and the need for Spanish companies to explore other markets to sell their products.
The Muslim population from Southeast Asia is growing day by day. They are a growing middle class that travels frequently and demands the services they need. According to the State of the Islamic Economy Report(2022), by 2023, more than 26% of the global population will be Muslims. This is why businesses in the tourism sector are now trying to cater to the specific needs of Muslim travellers.
The Costa del Sol Hotel in the city of Torremolinos is one such business that has invested in training its non-Muslim workers to have a minimum education in Muslim culture and traditions. This has helped them serve their large Muslim community of clients better.
The Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the city of Barcelona has been certified as a Halal hotel for years. They claim that beyond gastronomy, some small details make the difference when dealing with their Muslim clients.
The specific characteristics of the rooms and suites, along with a particular set of amenities for this market, as well as everything related to prayers, are some of the best practices they have adopted to make their Muslim guests feel more welcome.
Halal and Muslim-friendly tourism is on the rise globally. It all began with Turkey’s mainstream efforts and the emergence of large Halal resorts. Nevertheless, this trend has spread to even non-Muslim countries such as South Korea or Japan, which have quickly established themselves as some of the most highly ranked destinations for Muslim-friendly vacations.
Spain is gradually becoming more accommodating towards Muslim travellers. In addition to an increasing number of hotels and establishments catering to the specific needs of Muslim clients, government institutions are also working to make Spain a more Muslim-friendly destination, releasing official guides for Muslim travellers.
The municipality of Málaga was the first to create a Halal tourism guide and was recognised for the best Halal tourism marketing campaign at the third Halal In Travel Global Summit in Singapore.
Rafael Martínez has created a guide about Madrid’s Islamic past and current Muslim-friendly services and spaces through his website. He sees it as an effort to acknowledge and celebrate the history and contributions of the Muslim community in Spain.
Posted by New Arab