Halal industry eyed to encourage Muslim tourists

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Visitors pick Halal certified products at a food expo in Manila. -- BW FILE PHOTO

By Carmelito Q. Francisco

DAVAO CITY — The Department of Tourism (DoT) in the region has started its inventory of halal-friendly establishments with the goal of improving the marketability of the region to Muslim visitors.

Last week in her visit to the Marco Polo Hotel, Zuhairah A. Abas-Diamla, chief tourism operation officer of the DoT regional office, told BusinessWorld this is one way of looking at loopholes that need to be plugged so that promoting the region to Muslim tourists would be seamless.

“We need to look at the total picture of how halal has been practiced by our local tourism establishments,” Ms. Abas-Diamla said, pointing out that the inventory is the start of the long process necessary to ensure that everything about halal is put in place.

Dottie Würgler-Cronin, Marco Polo Davao general manager, welcomed the initiative as her establishment is among those that have implemented key initiatives to welcome Muslim travelers.

“We are one with the DoT in this initiative,” said Ms. Würgler-Cronin whose hotel has set up a prayer room for Muslims and a separate halal kitchen and even utensils for halal food.

According to Islamic practice, halal is an Islamic lifestyle free of impurities and does not only pertain to food.

Ms. Abas-Diamla said one factor to consider is how to both make establishment owners understand the concept of halal. “We must remember that they also need to invest to make their establishments conform with what is required of them in case they want to become Muslim-friendly establishments,” she added.

The city government has formed a body that focuses on halal implementation as it both wants to welcome Muslim travelers as well as help local businesses cash in on the huge industry.

This developed as Ms. Abas-Diamla earlier said that three Malaysian companies are looking at the potential of supplying halal products to the local market.

Although she did not identify the companies, she added that among the key businesses that these companies were considering included putting up food establishments because “we need (more) halal-conforming business establishments.

She said embarking on this endeavor is timely as the city is expected to host more Muslim travelers particularly with the opening of the Davao-Kuala Lumpur connectivity.

Anthony Francis Fernandes, Air Asia group president and chief executive officer, announced during the Davao Investment Conference in July that the airline is servicing the route starting Dec. 21.

Ms. Abas-Diamla added that intensifying the halal readiness of the city will also help create more intra-businesses within the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines-East Asean Growth Area as the Philippines is the only country in the sub-region whose majority in terms of population is not Muslim.