From hotels with segregated swimming pools to jelly made from seaweed instead of pig bones, Buddhist-majority Thailand is chasing halal gold as it welcomes Muslim visitors and touts its wares to the Islamic world, reports Malay Mail Online.
“Considering there are 1.5 billion Muslims around the world, I think this is a very good market,” said Sanya Saenboon, the general manager of the Al Meroz hotel in Bangkok, which is located in a Muslim area and takes care to cater to Muslim tastes.
An AFP analysis of Thai government figures shows visitors from key majority Muslim nations in the Middle East and Asia have risen from 2.63 million in 2006 to 6.03 million last year or about 20% of total arrivals.
Fazal Baharden, founder of the Singapore-based Crescent Rating, said the growth of cheap flights and booming Muslim middle classes has led to the number of Muslim travellers surging from around 25 million in 2000 to 117 million in 2015.
Crescent rates which countries are most welcoming to Muslim travellers and places Thailand in the top two alongside Singapore for non-Muslim-majority nations. Mr Baharden said medical tourism, shopping, and high quality hotels were the primary draws.
The availability of certified halal food products and eateries may also have been a draw.
“Fifteen years ago there were only 500 food plants that had halal certification,” Dr Winai Dahlan, founder of the Halal Science Centre at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, said. “Now it’s 6,000.”
Over the same period the number of halal-certified products made in Thailand has gone from 10,000 to 160,000.
The Thai government has set a goal of turning the country into one of the world’s top five halal exporting nations by 2020.
Thailand was well placed to achieve this, according to Dr Winai. Five per cent of its population is Muslim and — outside of the insurgency-plagued southern border region — is well-integrated within the Buddhist majority.