[OPINION] We Must Make Tourism Muslim-friendly
12 Dec 2017 KAYA VOICES
By Unathi Sonwabile Henama
Donald Trump has ordered that the American Embassy must be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a dramatic act and this has led to international condemnation. Donald Trump has delivered on his campaign promise to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, instructing that the embassy is constructed in a manner that it becomes an architectural gem, an optical marvel.
This decision is groundbreaking because no other country has an embassy in Jerusalem. The allies of the US, which include Germany have criticized the decision, noting its negative impact on the elusive quest for peace in the Middle East. The decision led to intense protests in Palestine, and a Day of Rage was declared, which turned deadly. At least two people were killed in clashes with Israeli troops on Friday when thousands of Palestinians demonstrated. An estimated 5,000 Palestinian protesters held demonstrations and clashed with Israeli security forces after midday prayers.
Jerusalem is a city that is sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Israeli government regards Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital, whilst the Palestinians regard East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state. Jerusalem is possibly the capital city of religious tourism in the world, as both Israel and Palestine compete for religious tourists. The instability that will escalate in Jerusalem has the potential to dampen tourists arrivals in Jerusalem.
Donald Trump is clearly anti-Muslim as was confirmed by his decision to ban travel to the US from seven Muslim countries in January. Donald Trump’s executive order created havoc at airports through the world, and Airbnb offered free accommodation, activating its Disaster Response Programme. The US is one of the top tourism destinations in the world tourism economy, and the Trump ban has done much to dampen Muslim tourism arrivals to the US. Not ever since September 11, has the US done so much to be Muslim unfriendly.
Every crisis is pregnant with opportunity, and this crisis must never be allowed to go to waste. Muslims represent an attractive market segment that can be exploited to benefit the economy of a country. Muslim tourism is a niche market segment that South Africa must be going out of its way to attract. America’s loss should benefit Muslim-friendly South Africa, if concerted efforts are undertaken to engage this market.
South Africa has entered its ‘special period’, where any viable means to kick-start the economy should be exploited. Tourism has been identified as the ‘’new gold’’ and it remains the immediate solution to the structural challenges that include poverty, unemployment and inequality. Tourism is very labour intensive, meaning that the growth of tourists means more job opportunities. In a report titled ‘’The Global Economic Impact of Muslim Tourism 2015/2016,’’ it is noted that the Islamic economy is growing at twice the rate of the world economy, and the Muslim tourist has a projected value of $223 billion by 2020. Muslim travel spent hit $145 billion in 2015, generating more than $50 billion in global GDP.
Cape Town and Durban, have immense potential to capitalise on the Muslim tourism market. Cape Town has underplayed the potential of Muslim tourism considering the history of Muslim resistance, best reflected by Robben Island. Long before the arrival of political prisoners in Robben Island, the island incarcerated Muslim royalty which includes Tuan Guru. The skewed representation of the history of Robben Island, defeats the pursuit of Muslim tourism. The plethora of halaal gastronomical outlets in Cape Town is an added advantage that must be exploited.
South Africa is ranked the second most halaal friendly country for a non-OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) member. The pursuit of tourism gives us an opportunity to confront many of the challenges in South Africa. For tourism to grow, it requires open skies, and open skies mean lower aviation prices, which benefit locals. For tourism to succeed, there must be a favourable visa regiment, and this means more arrivals and therefore more jobs for locals.
Trump’s anti-Muslim policies have ensured more Muslim tourists shun the US for Muslim-friendly destinations. We must never allow this crisis to go to waste, let’s exploit this to our tourism advantage as a country. Muslim tourism will continue to grow and South Africa must be at the forefront to exploit this growth to its tourism growth.
Unathi Sonwabile Henama teaches tourism at the Tshwane University of Technology and writes in his personal capacity
Kaya Voices reflects the opinions of the writers featured not Kaya FM.