Drive for more Muslim tourists

Drive for more Muslim tourists

Just a short hop from the holiday hot spot of Bali, Indonesia, a Saudi tourist and his family listen to the call to prayer as the sun goes down on Lombok, the self-styled "island of 1,000 mosques".

Lombok is at the centre of an Islamic tourism drive in Indonesia, and is hoping to boost the number of visitors from wealthy Middle- Eastern countries.

While aiming to continue to attract Western tourists who flock to its pristine beaches, the island is also seeking to promote its Islamic heritage, from numerous places of worship to shrines dedicated to ancient Muslim preachers.

"I love it here because I can hear the call to prayer and people go to the mosque to pray," said 58-year-old Sulaiman, the Saudi tourist, who gave only one name and was accompanied by his wife, who was wearing the burqa.

While there are no official figures for syariah (Islamic law) tourism in Indonesia, the sector is experiencing strong growth internationally.

In a recent report, Muslim-oriented business group CrescentRating predicted the sector would be worth US$192 billion (S$260 billion) a year globally by 2020, up from US$140 billion in 2013.

Only around 190,000 Middle-Eastern visitors visited Indonesia in 2013, according to official figures, but authorities hope their Islamic tourism drive can increase numbers.

The government has produced tourist guides promoting Indonesia as a "Muslim-friendly destination".

It highlights the country's best syariah tourism destinations and notes there are more than 600,000 mosques in the archipelago.

Lombok, long overshadowed by its better-known neighbour, Hindu-majority Bali, hopes the drive can help raise its profile.

Authorities are planning to build a huge Islamic centre that will contain a mosque, hotel and study centre, and specially trained tour guides will point Muslim visitors in the direction of the nearest mosque at prayer time.

STRICT

Alcohol-free cocktails are available and the call to prayer is played five times a day through the buildings. MTV has also been removed from the list of TV channels available in the rooms as it is deemed too risque, and hotel staff gently turn away unmarried couples.

Other parts of Indonesia are hoping to benefit from the initiative too.

Despite the optimism of officials, there are concerns that the push for Islamic tourism could put off other visitors who want to sunbathe in skimpy outfits and relax on the beach with a drink.

But the local government insists it can promote syariah tourism without affecting the existing industry, and that party hot spots in the area - such as tiny Gili Trawangan island, off the west coast of Lombok - will remain unaffected.


This article was first published on Feb 26, 2015.
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