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Halal Tourism, The Potential of Oromia
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Introduction to Halal Tourism

Tourism is one of the fastest evolving industries in the modern world. Its adaptation is what places it as perpetually relevant in societal affairs. One of the less explored branches of tourism is Halal Tourism. Halal Tourism comes from the word ‘halal’ which refers to what is permissibly accepted for Muslims, ranging from their diet to inter-human dealings. Accordingly halal tourism is a relationship between tourist-service providers on terms that are generally considered to be halal. These include but are not limited to the cuisine and drinks served, the overall setting of the service provider and accommodation that all must be in accord with religious traditions of halal. Halal Tourism is generated when an insistence for halal services occurs and services that offer such halal services in response constitute halal hospitality.

The number of Muslim travelers is on a steady rise proportional to the now-developed and developing economies of countries in what is deemed ‘the Islamic world’. The transformation of these economies has also meant that they have become tourist destinations themselves. It is because of a multitude of reasons like this that halal tourism is increasingly occupying an important place in the tourism industry.

 

Halal Tourism Destinations

With the growth of Halal Tourism, many destinations have emerged in the ‘Islamic World’ for the widening pool of tourists. Member-states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) are a major hub for Halal tourism. Saudi Arabia leads the list, but the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iran, Qatar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, and Kuwait are also visited widely. However, Halal tourism can also take place to countries with Muslim minorities. In the United Kingdom, only 5% of its general population is Muslim. However, Halal tourism is no issue of negligence in Great Britain. Professional companies, like Halal Tourism Britain exist, facilitating halal tours to their customers with packages that include visits to museums, mosques, historical sites with Islamic significance and even arranging accommodation with ‘Muslim-friendly’ hotels. So this is an important indication of how halal tourism presents potential for not only Muslim majority states but also for those with a Muslim minority population.

 

Marketing Approaches

Considering the developing state of Halal Tourism but rightfully anticipating the massive potential that is there, we need to conceptualize how shortcomings were overcome in OIC states. In the later chapters of the twentieth century, most of the OIC were placed as less attractive destinations due to concerns of pervasive poverty, severely challenged socio-economic environments, limited space for tourism development, and investment from state and private actors as well as poorly-connected transportation networks. Economic development, mainly driven by the discovery of oil amongst other reasons such as integration of markets, immigration, and free-market tendencies, have spun change into multiple OIC states. This economic development translated into better-structured transport networks, infrastructure evolution, a younger generation connected to the world wide web and the growing popularity of travel.

Along with thriving tourism, needs for marketing also grew. Halal Tourism requires a specific set of delicate marketing skills for reasons of it being religiously centered. Using Islamic scripture as a source of information, halal tourism marketing integrates norms and cultures of Islam. What is considered ‘halal’ and ‘haram’ is fundamental in knowing what to share and how to share it. Despite the difficult relationship between marketing and religion, the former can be beneficial to halal tourism. It is possible to enumerate three primary reasons for this. Firstly, tourism marketing entails preservation: Islamic sites are preserved and protected as a means to promote tourism. Second, tourism marketing also connotes awareness creation. Non-muslims, as well as Muslims, are presented with the opportunity to learn more about the faith. Thirdly, tourism marketing sheds truth on legacies of politics. OIC and states with Muslim majorities as well as Mulsim communities across the world are usually misunderstood in the international media. The prospective for marketing to help reshape stereotypes is game-changing in many aspects. Taken together, these reasons package

Destinations and the Future of Halal Tourism in Oromia

Ethiopia is renowned for its religious diversity and coexistence. Historically it has been the sanctuary for Muslims who fled the Middle East fearing religious persecution. Ever since the introduction of Islam to the peoples of Ethiopia, it has grown to exist in peace with other faiths. This presents a responsibility to help this coexistence evolve into integral elements of the Ethiopian state, including tourism. Binmalik Abdo, an Ethiopian expert on halal tourism, notes that Ethiopia, being a focal point in East Africa, and geographically proximate to the Middle East can offer tourists an experince in line with their values and cultures. He further remarks, Oromia specifically holds an abundance of destinations for ‘halal conscious tourists’.

Oromia is one of the eleven regional states that make up the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. From a diverse makeup of ethnonational groups and religions, the 2007 Population and National Housing Census says nearly half of Oromia’s inhabitants adhere to the Islamic faith. These are preexisting fertile grounds for halal tourism. When thinking about Halal tourism in Oromia, we must consider what the Dire Sheikh Hussein Shrine (Anajina) represents, as tens of thousands of pilgrims flock to the shrine in veneration of Sheikh Nur Hussein bin Ibrahim, who is historically regarded as an acclaimed teacher of Islam and performer of miracles. The unique white mounds of architecture and multiple monuments enrich the site and have created a tradition to witness pilgrims visiting the shrine twice a year. The site is also registered by UNESCO in its tentative list of world heritages as a place that holds important spiritual, historical, and cultural value. In addition, the Sof Umar Cave is also thought to be where Safiy Ullah Umar, a renowned teacher of Islam, is said to have resided and taught and proselytized Islam. Similar to the Dire Sheikh Hussein shrine, the cave is also visited by spiritual laity twice a year. Additionally, Oromia as a whole is home to nearly 10 other Islamic sites of spiritual significance. These are the Sheikh/Adam Goba Mosque, Awsharif Mosque, Sadekiyu Mosque, Afurtama Mosque, Abdulqadir tomb, Asa Usman Mosque, Harala Single Rock-Hewn Mosque, Owu Ka’iba Mosque and Sakata Mosque

 

Binmalek Abdo underscores that for such a capacity to be fully utilized for the purposes of halal tourism, standards are very important. Both the federal and regional levels of government must pay due attention to international standards as standards are a globally understood language, especially in the tourism industry. It is when such standards are enacted according to accepted guidelines that fertile ground is created for appealing and sustainable halal tourism to Oromia and Ethiopia. Sahelu Boku in a contribution for the Reporter Newspaper, who makes a case for halal tourism in the Ethiopian context as being essential to offset the foreign currency shortage the state is facing, mentions some of these global standards for halal tourism. Accommodation wise, ‘a halal hotel’ comprising of a halal menu, signs pointing in the direction for Mecca for salat, prayer mats for when it is time to perform salat, avoidance of alcohol and nightclubs, separate quarters for men and women related to spas and if possible, swimming, and quarters conducive for washing prior to prayer for the guests would go a long way in enriching the experience of tourists. Sahelu Boku, affirms that many countries before Ethiopia have done such adjustments successfully and that Ethiopia can replicate the pattern.

Conclusion

Despite the existence of conducive conditions for halal tourism to flourish, it is arguably still a very nascent if not unexplored topic. The potential exists with the question of how to help its flourishment hanging over it. The first and major step in the right direction, in line with Oromia Tourism Commission’s goals, is awareness creation. Generation of information with the intent to generate interest must be conducted on a regional, national and global level. In the awareness creation process, it is fundamental to engage the local religious clergy and the wider community to carefully elucidate the benefits halal tourism can present while giving respect to the sensitivities that can arise. Proceeding from such a step, the regional and federal government should invest or create a niche for investors, especially those interested and already engaged in halal tourism in OIC member states. A cross-country experience sharing can be used to empower a broader view of where and what the Oromia region can learn while adjusting to its context from other examples of Halal tourism. Halal hospitality is a crucial aspect of this as diet, accommodation, traditions and overall milieu are defined in offering a halal experience to all visitors. Challenges that could be faced include the resistance of a local community to what can be considered as monetizing what should not be as such, an under-developed transport network and hospitality services as well as security and stability issues. Overcoming these challenges and integrating the aforementioned procedures can indeed help Oromia realize a potential – a Halal one.

 

Recommendations

 

  • Selection of target audience when marketing: choosing Arabic mediums of communication to OIC countries with historical and geographic proximity as a pilot program and expanding upon the outcomes.
  • Encouraging entities in travel and tourism to participate in this venture by activating incentive-centered packages and deals to the potential incoming tourist pool
  • Promoting the integration of Halal hospitality for partners in the hospitality sector as a new scene of tourism
  • Engaging the local communities of potential sites directly and with the consultation of elders to help spread the benefits of halal tourism for the local economy
  • Cooperating with the national carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, to formulate a new strategy for halal tourism: including halal food and drinks and entertainment on flights, offering promotional discount to halal destinations and keeping Addis Ababa Bole International Airport to international halal standards, by preliminary things such as construction of praying rooms. These aspects will incentivize increased halal travel to Ethiopia.
  • Encourage local startups that work towards implementing Halal standards such as the EatSafe Certification Company, which certifies hospitality and other institutions as per established Halal standards along with GCC accreditation. Such establishments are how Oromia and the country itself can better cater to Halal tourism demands going forward.