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SE Asia destinations keen to boost Mideast tourists

June 9, 2014

Published on Jun 9, 2014

Countries in Southeast Asia have stepped up their efforts to welcome more tourists from the Middle East in order to increase their share in tourism receipts from Islamic travelers. According to latest available figures for 2012 from the World Travel and Tourism Council, Muslim tourists spend about US$137bn on travel, about 12.5% of the global tourism spending, and the growth potential is seen solid on the back of growing affluence of a Muslim middle class.

Travel Daily AsiaIndonesia has made a step forward by proposing that member countries of the Organization of Islamic Co-operation (OIC), which comprises 57 member states, implement a visa-free arrangement for tourists within the co-operation, modelled after the visa-free programme of Asean member states. This could also boost Shariah tourism in the region, said Indonesia's tourism and creative economy minister Mari Elka Pangestu at the OIC's International Forum on Islamic Tourism in Jakarta.

Indonesia is one Asean country that experiences rapidly rising tourism numbers from the Middle East, namely Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt, with double-digit growth rates in arrivals from January to April 2014.

Malaysia also has beefed up activities to market the country as a leading destination for Islamic tourism. Among non-Muslim countries, the Philippines also reported strongly growing arrivals from the GCC. The country welcomed about 80,000 visitors from the Gulf in 2013 – an increase of around 15% from 2012, and aims at increasing the number by 20% in 2014 by aggressively stepping up its marketing efforts and improve air connectivity by providing more seats, additional frequencies and more destinations. Saudi Arabia was Philippines' top regional source market last year with 38,969 visitors, up 25% year-on-year. The UAE followed with 15,155 visitors, recording a growth rate of around 15%.

Singapore is also positioning itself as a destination for Muslim holidays, pointing out that it ranks number six on the list of most Muslim-friendly countries for tourists as per the Islamic travel ranking by halal travel specialist Crescentrating. Some 15% of Singapore's population are Muslim, and there are 70 mosques in the city state.

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