“For women, swimming in a burkini isn’t easy,” Hilal Uysal tells us. “Women don’t feel comfortable because they look different. Also, it’s important to swim without one for health reasons – doctors tell veiled women they need to get vitamin D because their bodies never see the sun.”
Speaking from the Adin Hotel, Vice Chairwoman of the Board, Hilal, explains that here the burkini swimsuit, which covers the entire body except for the hands, face and feet, isn’t necessary. There are three beaches; one for women, one for families and one for men, and the women’s beach is completely secluded.
A family business, the hotel was established in 1984 and has since grown to include premium rooms with hot tubs on the balconies and villas with their own private saunas. Most of Adin’s customers are from Turkiye, Hilal tells us, but they also receive visitors from Belgium, France, Germany and Pakistan.
Hotels such as Adin are known as Muslim friendly and are particularly well established in Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkiye, which is already a “global giant” at providing traditional tourism, Ömer Akgün Tekin, a Professor in the Tourism Department at Akdeniz University, tells MEMO.
“Around 400 million Muslims live within a 5-hour flight radius around Turkiye. For this reason, Turkiye is very close to the world’s most important Muslim tourist reserve. In this area, more and more businesses in Turkiye are trying to offer services to Muslim tourists every day,” adds Tekin.
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Among the halal services provided are food and an alcohol-free environment. But whilst the industry is more commonly known as the halal hotel business, Tekin says this terminology is technically flawed since it is almost impossible for everything inside to meet the standards required to call it halal.
The first Muslim-friendly hotels date back to the 1970s, Tekin says. They grew in the nineties and then developed rapidly in 2006, after Muslims born in Generation Z began to travel more independently and explore the world.
The halal business is lucrative – a villa at Adin Hotel could set you back almost $1,000 a night and Hilal confirms that yes, business is booming, and that even the villas are fully booked, every night of the week.
Currently the demand for Muslim-friendly hotels outstrips supply, which pushes the prices up. Also, the fact that the hotels must provide more services than conventional places, for example a separate pool for men and for women and all the staff that must tend to each.
Yet, the Muslim friendly tourism market accounts for just five per cent of the global tourism market.
“Individuals who go on holiday to Muslim-friendly concept hotels are generally individuals in the income group consisting of large families of at least 5-6 people and who spend a lot of money,” says Tekin. “In this respect, although the Muslim travel market is a small market in terms of quantity, it is an extremely valuable market in terms of quality.”
The private, separated beaches are one of the main draws of a hotel like Adin. Whilst the burkini is not officially banned in Turkiye, often individual hotels do not allow it. Hilal tells us she called five of the top hotels in the country and they all told her it is prohibited to wear this type of swimsuit in their pools.
This has left a market for Adin and other similar hotels to host women like Ümmühan Özçelik and Kevser Yıldızhan who are frustrated with these restrictions. Ümmühan says that, whilst she never feels discriminated against as a veiled woman in Turkiye, she feels more comfortable holidaying in a hotel with a Muslim-friendly concept.
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“The ban on the burkini in some hotels in Turkiye is nothing but discrimination and disrespect towards us,” Ümmühan tells MEMO.
“We always feel excluded in other hotels,” adds Kevser, explaining that, because her mother is veiled, her family wanted to stay at Adin Hotel. “We chose it so she could have a more comfortable holiday.”
Muslim-friendly tourism is on its way up. Tekin says that the market will “increase rapidly in the near future” due to the increase in the global Muslim population, how educated they are becoming and how high their income is. Racism is also a factor.
“After September 11, we see that Islamophobia has risen and settled in many non-Muslim countries, especially the USA,” says Tekin.
“These hotels attract a lot of attention because Muslims feel safer and more comfortable here. It is aimed primarily to ensure women and children have a happy holiday by providing more opportunities. In fact, a significant number of these hotels also offer many women- and child-friendly solutions. For this reason, we see that not only religious conservative tourists, but also more secular tourists, prefer these hotels.”
“Not all of our customers are conservative,” Hilal agrees. “Some women who do not wear the headscarf come to the hotel because they feel more comfortable to wear a bikini on the women’s beach.”