Malaysia currently ranks first on a global list of Muslim-friendly tourist destinations which may surprise some as only 60% of the country is Muslim (versus neighboring Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population). For the past several years, Malaysia has set its sights on ingratiating Muslim tourists with accommodations such as making halal food and prayer rooms readily available. Local reports say that Malaysia hosts 5 million Muslim travelers a year while 10% of the population works in the travel sector.
“Malaysia was one of the first countries to realize the potential of this market,” says Fazal Bahardeen, founder of travel company Crescent Rating. “A common misconception is that ‘Muslim tourism’ means people going to do Muslim things. But in reality, they go to do the same things – they may want a shopping experience, or a beach experience, or a local cultural experience. They want to have fun like anyone else, but they just want to know they don’t have to worry about their basic faith-based needs.”
“I personally deal with the Arabic speakers, but there are also Iranians, and Muslim tourists from everywhere,” says Nagmaldeen Amer, a 25-year old Yemeni who sells travel packages. Many say that Malaysia’s multiculturalism (the two largest non-Malay groups are the ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities) has had a positive affect of open-mindedness. “It’s not so complicated,” says Zulkifly Md Said, director of the country’s Islamic Tourism Center. “Our Muslim visitors want something that is comfortable, but at the same time something that is a little different.”