South Korea’s inbound tour operators have seen a surge in Muslim travellers from South-east Asia, lured by the destination's improved provision of Muslim-friendly facilities from prayer rooms to halal food, its colder climate as well as the popularity of K-dramas.
Mustalifa Yunus, Korea eTour’s sales manager, said: “The percentage of Muslim travellers visiting South Korea is more than non-Muslims visiting the country. For my company, the percentage can be 60-40 sometimes. We get many requests from Muslim travellers, especially those based in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, as well as the occasional Arab country.”
Mustalifa Yunus (left) and Youngsik Youn
To cope with the growth, Mustalifa shared that Korea eTour recently opened its first branch office in Kuala Lumpur, “where our main bulk of Muslim travellers come from”.
Eileen Lim, global bound team manager, HanaTour ITC, agreed: “There is a large increase of Muslim travellers to Korea, and we handle a fair share of Indonesian Muslim travellers. As for Singapore, we’re trying to move into this market as we foresee it picking up.”
Stunning Korea, which has handled around 50 Muslim FIT groups of 20 pax or less, is likewise targeting Muslim travellers from Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, according to the agency’s president, Youngsik Youn.
While Seoul remains a popular destination among Muslim travellers with no shortage of halal facilities and restaurants, agents face greater challenges outside of the capital city.
Justin Kim, sales manager, South-east Asia Team, HanaTour ITC, pointed out: “It’s hard to arrange for halal travel in Busan and the southern part of South Korea, as most of the facilities and restaurants are in Seoul.”
HanaTour's Lim added: "In order for us to better serve our Muslim customers, we have to address the restaurant issue. You can’t bring them to the same restaurant every day."
Nevertheless, some agencies like Stunning Korea are eager to bring their Muslim clients beyond Seoul by exercising greater flexibility to cater to their dietary needs.
Youn shared: “Most tours do Seoul, Busan and Jeju. We have shifted our focus to the coastal line such as Yeongdeok and Tongyeong. As it’s difficult to get to these places, most tour companies don’t go there.
“For Muslim groups, we can (arrange for) catering from halal restaurants in Seoul to the coastal line, (where) there are no halal restaurants. Otherwise, we can offer them fish or seafood.”