FROM travel guides to shopping portals, new Internet ventures aim to capitalise on the growing “Muslim lifestyle” market, which is expanding beyond food to include areas such as tourism, fashion and credit cards.
Excluding food, where “halal” dietary restrictions must be followed, most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are content to buy the bulk of their goods and services from conventional suppliers.
A growing minority, however, want to certify more areas of their consumption as religiously permissible – a trend that appears partly due to rising incomes in majority-Muslim areas of the Gulf and southeast Asia, as well as to expanding choices for consumers.
In some ways, the trend resembles the surge of consumption of luxury goods in emerging markets, as newly affluent consumers seek to express their identities partly through what they buy. For example, Muslim consumers may may want to stay in Islam-friendly hotels that ban alcohol, wear fashions that have been specifically designed to meet Muslim ideas of modesty, and use medicines that have been screened to exclude alcohol or gelatine made with banned animal products.
The Muslim lifestyle market is spread across the world, so some firms are trying to cast a wider net by going online. One is Singapore-based CrescentRating, a firm which focuses on the halal travel market.
“This is a very fragmented industry of largely offline transactions, with no real major players. It is in a prime position for disruption from an entrepreneurial point of view,” said chief executive Fazal Bahardeen.
Travel is one area of opportunity; Muslim consumers spent an estimated $140 billion on travel and tourism in 2013, according to New York-based DinarStandard, a research firm specialising in Muslim markets. Nobody knows how much of that spending was self-consciously “Islamic”; the vast majority was probably not. But even if 1 percent of spending went towards halal products and services, that was a sizeable amount.
CrescentRating has developed a travel index with Mastercard that ranks “Muslim-friendly” holiday destinations and is releasing a mobile application for its travel portal, HalalTrip.com. Its criteria include access to halal food andplaces of worship, and the option of having no alcohol in hotel rooms’ minibars. This month, Mastercard will roll out its first halal benefits platform, allowing customers to redeem points to obtain halal products, said Safdar Khan, group head of Islamic payments for southeast Asia at Mastercard. In June, MasterCard launched a syariah-compliant debit card with Malaysia’s Lembaga Tabung Haji, a body which manages funds for Muslims to perform their pilgrimages to Mecca. In the same month, it launched an Islamic credit card with Malaysia’s Maybank Islamic, Khan added. The Maybank card does not use interest rates, which are forbidden in Islam. It is based on the Islamic concept of ujra, or fee on service, in which bills are subject to additionalmanagement charges if the amounts have not been settled in full by the due date.
Malaysia-based Zilzar, launched in October, is an onlinemarket for halal products including food and beverages, clothing and fashion, electronics, medicines and media such as games and movies.
“There is a convergence of factors in Muslim-majority countries: rising per capita income, Internet penetration, mobile and mobile commerce,” said chief executive Rushdi Siddiqui. (Reuters)