For tourists, Have Halal, Will Travel could mean end of Internet searches
- 04 February 2019
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It all started back in 2015, when a group of exchange students were trying to find halal-certified restaurants in Korea. Unfortunately, Mikhail Goh, Tengku Suzana and Elaine Tee could only find little information online, and most of it wasn’t up-to-date, often leading them to restaurants that had closed months ago.
Seeing a clear need for reliable information for Muslim tourists, the friends joined hands to start a travel portal for Muslims that, to begin with, published halal travel guides: Have Halal, Will Travel (HHWT).
With the aim of becoming a one-stop solution for Muslim tourists, the startup now also offers halal-food recommendations, information on prayer facilities as well as a forum to connect with other travellers.
The company is currently working with Visa to add a marketplace where travellers can book tours and other activities.
The Singapore-based portal now reaches 9.1 million viewers across Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.
It partners with hotels, airlines, tourism boards and consumer brands who want to tap the halal travel market in the region.
HHWT’s user base is between the ages of 18 and 45, with a big chunk of the traffic looking for information on destinations like Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Australia.
For Goh, now the company’s CEO and Head of Product, there has to be more to travelling than staying at a resort, sightseeing and eating the same kind of food you get back home. He wanted Muslims to get the local experience.
And this might just be what Millennial travellers are looking for. Fazal Bahardeen, founder and CEO of CrescentRating, observed: “The younger travel market is looking for authentic, affordable and accessible services. Most of them want more local experiences; they want to try local food. That is why destinations like Japan are becoming more interesting, because you can now find halal versions of local food.”
During the three years of HHWT’s existence, the market has seen several such positive changes. Goh notes that governments and other agencies are now rising to meet the demand of the modern Muslim travellers. “Until a few years ago, governments and companies were not sure of how to tackle issues related to halal travel. Now, they are making investments in infrastructure, and there is more focus on experiences for Muslim travellers.”
When information about halal food, qibla directions and prayer facilities in any given city or town is available at your fingertips, the hospitality sector will have to look at newer ways of reaching out to the Muslim tourist base. HHWT intends to meet this challenge by turning itself into a concierge. Through the website, app, social channels and a chatbot that amasses data with every question that is put to it, the company will be able to offer relevant experiences based on user activity.
“It might be the end of ‘search’,” Goh said. “You won’t have to search; I already know what you are looking for. I can recommend you something that may be more accurate than what you may find on your own.”
There was one more driving force for HHWT: Goh wants travel to become a path to world peace. “When I was in Tokyo, the people I was working with had several questions about Islam: What is halal? Why do Muslim women wear the hijab? That was a moment of epiphany for me and gave a purpose to the existence of our company: we have to build bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims. One way to bring peace to the world is for other people to understand for themselves who Muslims are.”
Like all startups, HHWT isn’t without challenges. “I think our greatest challenge is recruiting and training highly efficient and effective individuals to help achieve our vision of peace. Although people may classify us as an Islamic startup, we believe that our workforce should reflect this vision. We hire diverse individuals from various walks of life, genders and faiths, building a more peaceful future for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.”
(Writing by Savitha Venugopal; editing by Seban Scaria firstname.lastname@example.org)
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