A great place to stay

Serviced residence operators in Asia-Pacific that have readied their hardware and heartware for Muslim travellers are having their efforts paid off, winning over families, young couples and even business travellers. By Karen Yue

The Muslim travel market is growing, with CrescentRating – the world’s leading source of intelligence on Muslim travel – projecting 158 million Muslim travellers by this year, up from 25 million in 2000; and US$300 billion in travel spend by 2026.

And serviced residences in Asia are eager to get a slice of that pie. Some of the savvier chains, having foreseen the potential of this market, had taken steps years ago to improve their product offerings to address the accommodation needs of Muslim travellers.

Guus Bakker

According to CrescentRating’s Muslim Traveller Faith-based Service Needs 2.0 model, must-haves for Muslim travellers include halal food, prayer facilities, water-friendly washrooms and the absence of Islamophobia.

In CrescentRating’s research in 2019, Muslim survey participants said accommodation operators and airports must provide these essential faith-based services.

Far East Hospitality (FEH), which has a portfolio of nine serviced residences in Asia-Pacific – eight in Singapore and one in Kuala Lumpur, has implemented changes to better cater to Muslim travellers. Its efforts, according to CEO Arthur Kiong, included installing bidets in guestrooms, providing halal breakfast options, and training staff to be familiar with the selection of halal restaurants and mosques in the area around the property as well as important information Muslim guests would seek during the fasting month.

Said Kiong: “We also have team members on duty who are fluent in Bahasa Melayu, and depending on the demand for it, we are open to sending our employees for language courses in Arabic as well.”

FEH’s efforts are paying off, with an overall 12 per cent year-on-year incremental growth in room nights from the Muslim travel markets.

“While the majority of our Muslim guests are from neighbouring countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, we are noticing more check-ins from countries in South Asia and the Middle East,” shared Kiong.

Oakwood Asia Pacific, which recorded a “healthy growth” of 13.4 per cent in Muslim guests at its properties in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Japan between 2018 and 2019, had also geared up early to court the promising market.

Dean Schreiber, interim CEO, Oakwood and managing director, Oakwood Asia Pacific, shared that property enhancements have included Muslim-friendly facilities such as washlet toilet seats in public and guestroom toilets, and individual prayer rooms for male and female conference guests with attached ablution facilities.

“We provide halal menu options in our restaurants, and some of our properties, such as Oakwood Hotel & Residence Sri Racha (in Thailand), are halal certified,” he added.

Guus Bakker, CEO EMEA of Frasers Hospitality, takes pride in his properties being Muslim-ready. “At our properties, we ensure staff are able to advise on our halal certifications as well as halal menu offerings. Additionally, properties that see a higher number of Muslim guests have bilingual staff who are able to attend to guests both in English and their native language,” he explained.

Attention is paid to feeding Muslim guests well, something that Frasers properties achieve by “making significant adjustments in our breakfast offerings, restaurant and in-room dining menus to meet the changing preferences of our regional guests”.

In love with space and accessibility
Presently, regional serviced residences are welcoming mostly holidaying families with a preference for larger spaces, young couples on their honeymoon, and corporate travellers desiring a home away from home.

Bakker said easy access to halal food, affordable luxury goods shopping and entertainment options for families and kids alike ranks high among his Muslim guests. As such, Frasers properties in Asia-Pacific, which are conveniently placed near halal restaurants as well as grocery shops, have been winners in the books of these travellers.

For FEH properties that are located close to hospitals and medical facilities, a market niche has emerged – Muslim medical tourists.

In these properties, such as Orchard Scotts Residences, Orchard Parksuites and Regency House – all in Singapore, facilities such as accessible rooms and wheelchairs are available for loan.

“As the recovery and rehabilitation process differs between individuals, our serviced residences offer the flexibility for guests to extend their stay on a weekly basis,” said Kiong.

Changing profiles
Schreiber observed that his Muslim guests are getting younger and new travel patterns have emerged.

“Instead of travelling with their family or a small group, we are seeing more Muslim millennials travelling with friends as well as solo travellers for leisure and business purposes,” he said.

“The shift in travel patterns may be caused by a change in objectives of travel experiences. More Muslim guests are willing to explore non-Muslim countries such as South Korea, Thailand and Japan due to the influence of pop culture, for example, to catch a K-pop concert or visit attractions and restaurants featured in a popular drama or movie,” he added.

Schreiber also expects to welcome more young female Muslim travellers over the next few years, a projection that Bakker shares.

Bakker also foresees that the Muslim family travel market will continue to expand and drive demand for larger residences to accommodate all members.

Meanwhile, Kiong believes that Singapore Tourism Board’s new efforts to appeal to Muslim travellers through a partnership with Have Halal Will Travel booking platform, as well as the production of educational travel guides and materials targeting Muslim travellers around Asia in collaboration with CrescentRating, will result in more leisure travellers, especially millennials and families, over the next few years.

“With Singapore’s strengthened economic relations with the Middle East, we also foresee a possible increase in business travellers staying with us when they are here on business trips or for conventions,” Kiong added.

Mark these properties

From left: Fraser Residence Orchard, Singapore; Oakwood Hotel & Residence Sri Racha; Orchard Scotts Residences

Fraser Residence Orchard, Singapore offers fully-furnished and luxurious units that are equipped with high-end appliances and modern conveniences. With the world’s top brands and an array of halal eateries at the doorstep, long-stay guests with young children can be reassured of the convenience and accessibility the property has to offer. Chefs can also prepare meals upon request, perfect for residents with dietary requirements.

Oakwood Hotel & Residence Sri Racha in Thailand boasts magnificent panoramic views of the Gulf of Siam. It offers 458 rooms and apartments with modern hotel amenities that are perfect for leisure and corporate travellers. An array of services, from personalised check-ins to private dining, as well as facilities such as children’s play area, karaoke room, golf driving practice room and library will appeal to families as well. In addition to TrEat Restaurant, a halal-certified restaurant, there are also six function rooms for business meetings and social gatherings.

Orchard Scotts Residences is an award-winning property that is situated in Singapore’s famed Orchard belt, placing guests in easy reach of the finest shopping, halal dining and entertainment options. The nearest mosque is located 10 minutes away on foot. Despite being at the doorstep of the city centre, the property is a sanctuary with 2.5 hectares of sculpted gardens. Guests can choose from one-bedroom apartments to a plush four-bedroom penthouse.

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