As the South Korean hotel industry has been directly hit by the steep decline in the number of Chinese tourists due to China’s retaliation over the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, five-star hotels has been recently making every effort to attract 1.7 billion Muslims around the world.
According to hotel industry sources on August 6, the number of Muslim tourists who visit South Korea is increasing rapidly. The data from the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) shows that the number of Muslim tourists stood at 980,000 last year, up 33 percent from the previous year, and is expected to reach 1.2 million this year.
Lotte Hotel Seoul, which is located in Sogong-dong, Seoul, saw the number of guests who are from Middle East surge 40 percent this year from a year earlier. The Plaza also said the number of Muslim guests increased nearly 20 percent this year, accounting for 10 percent of the total guests.
Grand InterContinental Seoul Parnas also saw the share of guests who are from the Middle Eastern and African regions grow to 12 percent in the first half of this year. The hotel expects that the figure will increase further in the second half of the year as there are big international events coming, including the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games. An official from The Plaza said, “There are a lot of Muslims across the world and they have a high purchasing power. So, they can be customers who can replace Chinese tourists in the future.”
As the number of Muslim tourists who visit South Korea is rising, hotels are competitively introducing customized services for them. Recently, five-star hotels are acquiring the “Muslim Friendly” certification which was introduced by the KTO. There are four stages of the Muslim friendly restaurant classification system. When restaurants sell dishes using Halal certified food ingredients on a regular basis. They can obtain the Muslim Friendly certification.
Lotte Hotel Seoul and The Plaza are making the most aggressive move. All five restaurants at Lotte Hotel Seoul received the Muslim Friendly certification, while four restaurants at The Plaza all acquired the certification.
Sheraton Seoul D Cube City Hotel’s signature restaurant, Feast, also obtained the Muslim Friendly certification last month. In addition, Grand Hilton Seoul Hotel's buffet restaurant and Atrium Café received the certification last month. Sheraton provides the Koran, prayer mat, compass and Tasbih to help Muslim guests have religious rituals at anytime and anywhere.
InterContinental Seoul COEX hasn’t received the certification but has scouted a chef specializing in Halal cuisines. He is a Jordanian veteran chef with 15 years of experience who worked at Marriott Hotels Dubai and Petra Restaurant in Jordan.
Imperial Palace Boutique Hotel Itaewon also said the number of Muslim guests is growing and has decided to provide Halal breakfast for them through the partnership with Kervan, a restaurant specializing in Turkish cuisine. Kervan is the nation’s first restaurant that has obtained the Halal certification and runs seven stores in Gangnam, Itaewon and Seoul Station in Seoul.