Hendy Mustiko Aji
Conceptually, halal tourism is different from Islamic tourism. I distinguish among four terms that might possibly confuse many people: Islam, sharia, halal and Islamic. In terms of importance, Islam comes first as a belief or faith. It is the center of Muslim business practices and conduct.
As a faith, Islam regulates its followers in doing or not doing something. Muslims are highly regulated under its law, called sharia. Sharia comes second, right after Islam as a faith. Sharia is defined as laws or rules adopted from the Quran and the Hadiths or the Prophet’s sayings. It is very strict and cannot be modified, since it is divine in nature. Thus, sharia is Islamic law.
Right below sharia in the pyramid is halal, which means “permissible”. I define it as “the operationalization of sharia”. The word “halal” is more precisely used to label anything that is permissible under sharia law. The word is also more inclusive when compared to the terms “sharia” and “Islamic”, which Muslims perceive to be too exclusive.
At the very bottom is Islamic, as the attributive. The word “Islamic” must be differentiated from “halal”. As scholars cite, Islamic is strongly connected with the faith and its doctrines. Therefore, “Islamic” denotes religious perception.
Something that is halal is not automatically Islamic, or vice versa. For instance, rice, T-shirts, and financial services are halal in nature, but they are not necessarily Islamic unless someone adds Islamic attributes to them.
The same logic applies in tourism. “Islamic tourism” can be defined as religious travel undertaken by Muslims. We can say that traveling to Mecca and Medinah for umrah is Islamic tourism. However, what about Muslims who travel to non-Muslim countries for leisure without any religious purpose? This is certainly not Islamic tourism.
Halal tourism does not always mean Islamic tourism, since religious intention is not a prerequisite for making the trip. When defined, “halal tourism” is travel for leisure or business undertaken by Muslims to tourist objects or attractions in either Islamic or non-Islamic countries that are not specifically prohibited by sharia. Consequently, the destination country neither has to be Islamic nor conceal its local characteristics to implement the halal tourism concept.
Japan and South Korea are the two of the best examples. Both countries have a very strong heritage of cultural and perhaps religious values. Nonetheless, the Japanese and South Korean governments greatly welcome halal tourism.
Japan and South Korea have adopted the halal tourism strategy because they want to be perceived as friendly to Muslim travelers. It is also a part of Japan’s 2020 Olympics strategy to welcome Muslim travelers from around the world, especially from Muslim countries. According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, 63,000 Indonesians visited the country in 2009, and the number skyrocketed to 271,000 in 2016 — a 23.24 percent increase. Similar growth was also seen in the number of Malaysian visitors.
What Japan and South Korea did is understandable. They know that Muslim travelers are a very large market segment. Muslims’ spending on food and beverages grew 6.1 percent. The State of the Global Islamic Economy Report 2018/2019 also forecast that the global halal market will be worth US$1.9 trillion by 2023. With such a huge potential, deciding to neglect this market segment is neither wise nor smart.
The above example illustrates that halal tourism just serves a different market segment with superior service quality by providing worship facilities, halal restaurants and halal packaging labels to make sure that the merchandise Muslim travelers purchase comply with their religious norms. These are the core needs of Muslim travelers.
Indonesia has just been named the 2019 world best halal tourism destination on the Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI). This is important progress for Indonesia tourism and reflects the government’s efforts to improve Indonesian tourism around the globe, especially for Muslim travelers. The 2019 GMTI score is based on the “ACES” model encompassing the four main variables of accessibility, communication, environment and service. The index measures the degree of friendliness Muslim visitors perceive in these variables, not the degree of religiousness of either the state or the country. Therefore, again, halal tourism is dissimilar from Islamic tourism.
To maintain Indonesia’s 2019 GMTI achievement, the government must improve in the categories in which we scored below the standard. Unique experience has one of the worst scores (35 out of 100). This might be because there are halal tourism destinations with a high potential for providing unique experiences to Muslim travelers that have been largely untapped, like Bali.
In 2018, Statistics Indonesia (BPS) reported that Bali saw a significant increase in foreign tourist arrivals. However, the data also showed a decrease of 6.13 percent in the total number of visitors from Middle Eastern countries, an important market for Indonesia’s halal tourism segment. According to the Tourism Ministry’s 2019 data, Middle Eastern travelers demand natural environs with fresh air, such as those in mountainous areas, but with five-star facilities, something that Bali is well known for.
As Bali already has advanced infrastructure and offers a unique cultural experience, the next government should make Bali a top priority in developing halal tourism.
The writer is a lecturer and researcher in management at the economics school of the Islamic University of Indonesia (UII).
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.