Buzzwords such as “Halal tourism” have been circulating for a while now. But in fact, every fourth Muslim guest is a business traveller. People in the Middle East view themselves as outstanding hosts. They also expect a lot in return – especially respect.
Text: Karen Cop // FOTOS: iSTOCK
Those who think that this is a really hot summer in Europe should spare a thought for Arab tourists, who like to spend this time of year in Germany, Austria or Switzerland because they find the weather there pleasantly cool. According to a report by ITB Berlin and IPK International, Germany is ranked as one of Arab tourists’ favourite travel destinations, only falling behind the United Arab Emirates. In fact, Germany is the “most visited destination in Europe”. So it’s high time to take a closer look at just what predominantly Muslim guests wants – especially as one in four is a business traveller.
Arab corporate customers do not tend to travel alone. On the contrary, guests from the Middle East generally enjoy travelling with others, ideally with their extended family. The family merrily meanders through a city’s pedestrian zone, the children enjoying the puddles from the summer rain and refreshing nature, while mostly men devote themselves to business.
“The proportion of female travellers from Islamic countries lies below the international average, but that said, it has risen steadily in recent years”, the ITB press office reports. The group differentiates itself in other ways, too: “A 75% proportion of 24-44 year olds” makes it much younger than the international average. It is also characterised by “a larger proportion of people with a high level of education”.
Many hotels have already adapted to the increasing number of Muslim guests. People in Arabian countries are not just proud to be excellent hosts; they also expect a lot of attention in return and their special requests to be fulfilled. At the 5-star Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich, visitors from the Middle East receive a welcome folder and a personal cover letter in both Arabic and English, as well as being welcomed by an Arabic-speaking member of staff. In the hotel restaurants, they can eat excellent “halal” or “pure” food and drink. Offering typical hearty roast pork with Octoberfest beer would be a real faux pas. If you already know that your expected guests are not allowed alcohol according to Sunni and Shiite Islam, then fill up the mini bar differently and leave out the wine and champagne.
During Ramadan’s fasting month (23rd April to 23rd May 2020), it is a good idea to meet the requirements of your fasting guests, who are only allowed to eat after sunset. Providing an outstanding Halal-style buffet is guaranteed to deliver satisfaction. Ask regularly if they would like that or have any other special wishes! Arab guests naturally expect a level of service that would be too much for stressed business travellers from elsewhere, demanding a high level of personal contact and peace and quiet. They also do not like being put under time pressure when doing business.
Time and again, people are uncertain about how to approach women wearing veils. Many Europeans think that once there is a man by their side, then women are not allowed to speak for themselves. But in Oman, for example, more women attend university than men. The young female generation in particular speaks excellent English, so both women and men expect to be addressed directly. If you welcome Arabic guests as a hotel manager, the men wait for your outstretched hand. On the other hand, a European hotelier should not reach for a veiled woman’s hand but should rather wait for a sign from her.
Muslim women want men to be kept away while in a hotel’s swimming or spa area, or shared bathrooms. This means that even the pool’s lifeguard should be female and male cleaning staff should not allowed access while female guests are inside. If you cannot offer a separate swimming area, it is advisable to set up separate ladies’ bathing and sauna times.
As so often, it is the little things that make a guest feel respected. In larger hotels in Turkey, it goes without saying that there will be a copy of the Bible besides the Koran in the bedside table, so why not vice versa? Arabian guests also appreciate hearing about prayer times when checking in – after all, they often travel from different time zones. A prayer mat would be a great idea. The ultimate would be to welcome your Arabic guests with a small, rippling fountain in their rooms and to put little treats on the table – this will certainly get you some plus points.
Explain to your colleagues that they should not point at fixtures and fittings with their index finger; instead, they should use their entire, flat hand when showing guests from the Middle East to their rooms. Allow Arabian tour groups a bit of personal space in the midst of hectic hotel activity, particularly at mealtimes. Fill up empty plates quickly. And be prepared that business partners go for dinner if negotiations are going well. Arabian guests’ core business activity often takes place before or after fairs and conferences in settings as private as possible. Preferably with you, right?