I spoke with Fazal Bahardeen, Founder and CEO of Crescent Rating, the world’s leading authority on Halal-friendly travel to talk about this unique market and how Crescent Rating has succeeded in enabling Muslim travellers to explore the world with peace of mind.
How did your life look like before Crescent Rating?
“So before Crescent Rating I studied in China. After getting an engineering degree I worked in telecommunications for the French company Alcatel for 18 years.”
Why did you found Crescent Rating? What was the industry missing at the time?
“During my time working for Alcatel I had to travel a lot, and I noticed that the travel industry didn’t really identify the Muslim travellers as an important and real segment. And that’s why they weren’t catering to their specific needs and unique requirements, such as prayer rooms, halal food, etc.. The hospitality industry was just lacking.”
So you found things missing and you wanted to do something about it. Where did you start? How did you work out the concept?
“Initially we started by rating hotels and that’s where the name “Crescent Rating” comes from. We started by giving stars to hotels and rate them in terms of being Muslim friendly. But now we’re doing a lot more and we have expanded our services in multiple layers. We educate businesses and hotels about the Muslim market by providing workshops and training programs. For example; I just went to South Africa and worked with 40 hotel chefs in Cape town. Through an accreditation program, we taught them how to prepare and get familiar with halal cuisine.”
“We’re also working on launching online training as well. Another service we provide is helping businesses and destinations to develop. We will go to that destination and do complete research and recommend what they should do. For example, train the staff, make some adjustments in their restaurants, etc…”
“We wanted to become the benchmark for rating hotels. The reality is, it comes down to the travel industry. At the end of the day its business. And they have seen that the Muslim market is something they cannot ignore anymore. The numbers show that. The Muslim travel market is valued to be worth an estimated $220 billion, by the end of 2025 we estimate it wil be $300 billion. This about 11% of the global expenditure. You just cannot go around these numbers anymore. It is the most lucrative and one of the most rapidly growing market segments in the industry.”
What is Halal Tourism exactly? What are the most important criteria?
“Halal Tourism is actually a term that the media uses but at end of the day our focus is just on Muslim travellers, for pleasure and business. They have certain needs and we just try to provide it for them. We categorized those needs into different areas from halal food, information for prayers, water in toilets, separate swimming pools to gyms, etc…Not all Muslims are looking for this, so we segmented them in “strictly practicing, less practicing and practicing”. Some Muslims want everything, for some being able to have halal food is more than enough.”
The Halal market is a very complex and fragmented industry. Are there any differences between a muslim consumer from the Middle East versus someone from Asia, or Europe?
“It is a very complex industry indeed. First you have faith based needs, and these can vary in the level of an individual’s halal consciousness. And then you have non faith based needs, and they can differ depending on where they come from. For example, Muslim travellers during Ramadan are the same at first sight, whether they’re Indonesian of Middle Eastern, but the taste is different. We target the visitors, understand the complexity and meet their requirements.”
“We’re currently working on a new report with Mastercard, about the rise of the Muslim millennials. We understand that this is an extremely important segment in the Muslim travel market. We need to study on how they back the travel market, what their behaviours are.…It’s a step by step education but we need much deeper understanding about the behaviour of Muslim travellers and the market.”
It’s kind of surprising to me that not many businesses were catering to this group already. Even though the needs were there all the time, It’s a pretty new market. Why is that?
“It’s also about the size of the market. In 2000 our estimate was there were only 25 million international Muslims visiting other countries. By 2010 we estimated there were 100 million and in 2016 it increased to 120 million visitors. So it grew 4 times bigger between 2000 and 2010. So I think it’s also about the increase of the market. They probably didn’t see it as a profitable and important market until 2010 when it started to grow.”
“Second, what we also noticed is, mid 2000, with 9/11 and all the negativity that came with it had an impact too. Even now there’s so much negativity around Muslims. It makes a lot of businesses slightly cautious in providing Halal food etc… but most companies realized it’s all about business.”
How do you see Crescent Rating in 5 years?
“Crescent Rating wants to be the enabler of destinations and businesses who target this market. We have a simple mission: Make Muslims travel and explore any part of the world without having to worry about their needs. And we’re going to work on that on our two platforms, Crescent Rating and Halal Trip, which is like the Halal trip advisor.”
I bet you have seen a lot of countries over the past years, which one has been your favorite so far?
“In terms of work and targeting the Muslim Travel industry, we have seen Japan and South Korea do a lot of work for this market. The Asian market has been a real leader in this field. From the Muslim countries, the real leaders are Malaysia and Indonesia. Even South Africa is doing big things.”
“In terms of personal experience and favorite destinations, I have to say that I was so impressed by Switzerland. I haven’t seen more beautiful nature. But Petra in Jordan is very impressive too. I always tell my friends that if there’s one place you should see, you should visit Petra.”
And which destination is still waiting at the top of your bucket list?
“I have been to many many countries but one continent I haven’t been to is Latin-America. The very first country I’d love to visit would be Peru and see Machu Pichu.”