Rising demand for halal spas a challenge and opportunity for quality service providers  | Salaam Gateway

Entrepreneurs identifying a gap in the market where Sharia principles can be applied.

Doha: Innovative Muslim entrepreneurs are developing the halal spa concept as a viable contender for Muslims alongside the more well-known Scandinavian, Balinese and Thai versions of these health, beauty and relaxation facilities not always suitable for Muslim men and women.

By contrast, a halal spa or wellness center offers products and services according to Sharia principles. It is run according to Islamic values ​​and requirements, offering transformational and spiritual treatments and therapies.

This concept appeals to Muslim spa goers since it incorporates Sharia-compliant elements such as privacy, gender segregation and using halal products, according to the International Journal of Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage.

The goal of halal-branded spas is to serve the needs of women, Muslim travelers and attract new audiences to boost positive awareness, said a study on Muslim-friendly spas published in Malaysia’s International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences.

Good examples can be found in Qatar. The Zulal Wellness Resort by Chiva-Som officially opened on 29 March in the north of the country and incorporates Islamic wellness concepts to offer relaxing and spiritual services. The traditional Qatari hamiz is a deeply relaxing massage using circular strokes with tadleek oil (infused with medicinal herbs) and hot stones to reenergize the body.

The spa also offers traditional hijama cupping therapy and can apply a slimming body mask of camel milk that delivers heat to enhance metabolic rate while detoxifying the skin and a range of Arabic spa rituals including hydrotherapy and hammam. The wellness products use fresh locally sourced ingredients, healing herbs, minerals and marine flora.

Specialty products such as pink Qatari clay, seaweed harvested from Qatar’s shores, local camel milk, charcoal, locally distilled essential oils and sidr leaves all link to Qatar’s heritage. Zulal offers unique services and treatments based on traditional Arabic and Islamic medicine (TAIM) principles.

Halal principles are also being integrated into the operations of spas in the region not marketed as Islamic services. International spa company ESPA opened a major spa at the Mondrian Doha hotel in 2017. Halal-compliant services offered include women and men-only services and a traditional Turkish hammam.

Halal spa market grows

Such initiatives reflect how Sharia-compliant spas have increasingly become an important marketing strategy to attract customers in the context of wellness industry. Due to higher disposable income, awareness of personal health, availability of wellness products and changing philosophy of lifestyle, the niche spa and wellness market has strong growth opportunities.

This is according to certification body Islamic Services of America that describes the Muslim wellness industry as “booming”. It said a focus on healthcare and healthy lifestyles was “more becoming a trend among…millennials”, a key Muslim consumer demographic.

Equally, the market internationally could be significant with the Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) estimating the number of Muslim international travelers will grow from 108 million in 2013 to 261 million in 2021, as Covid-19 ebbs.

With the rise in Muslim populations, more tourism businesses and destinations are catering to Muslim-friendly services. The main components of Muslim-friendly tourism, identified by Muslim travel advisor CrescentRating that generates the index, includes Muslim-friendly spa and wellness centres, accommodations, terminal and transportation services, attractions and theme parks and tours and travel packages. In 2019 CrescentRating identified nine key faith-based needs influencing the consumption behavior of Muslim travellers. These needs were halal food; prayer facilities; wudu-friendly washrooms for ritual washing; not Islamophobia; social causes; Ramadan services; local Muslim experiences; no non-halal activities and recreational facilities and services with privacy.

To be listed, all spas are required to be registered with the local authority and obtain any necessary licenses. The CrescentRating system further rates halal spas designed specifically for Muslims as AA and where they adhere to Islamic criteria and provide a satisfying spa service for Muslim tourists as A. Securing a spa or wellness center rated by CrescentRating informs potential Muslim customers the spa is compliant with Islamic requirements and can be visited.

Businesses looking to establish halal-certified spas must source halal food, cosmetic products, devices, pharmaceuticals and supplements. They also have to obtain halal certifications, hire and train Muslim employees and operate according to Sharia principles and values.

Halal-certified spas must strictly adhere to Sharia principles including the decorations and gender separation

Growth in this segment has been predicted for some time with spa ecommerce bookings and review service Spa Finder noting in 2015 there was a rising demand globally for “sophisticated, nature-based Islamic wellness traditions”. These include selling medicinal plants and spices from the Middle East and Africa to incorporate into aromatherapy, scrubs, oils, and skincare products. Top, trending treatments revolve around sand, mud, clay and intense full-body scrubs.

While there is no international global blueprint for halal spas approved by an international industry agency, national certification agencies have issued rules saying how spas should be run if they want to be marketed as halal.

There are common elements to certification guidance, however, notably the need to follow Sharia principles, as well as Islamic teaching and values ​​in all aspects of spa operations. That said, each certification authority has developed its own Islamic spa practices (ISP) based on its interpretations and judgements. The National Sharia Board of the Indonesian Council of Ulama has listed five regulations governing spas that include a ban on pornography or pornographic activities; protections for tourist privacy; use of halal cosmetics; a ban on non-halal services (such as serving alcohol and pork products) and the availability of prayer facilities.

Habib Ghanim, director of the US-based ISWA (Islamic Society of the Washington Area) halal certification department and president of USA Halal Chamber of Commerce, said its standards insist halal beauty products do not contain any pig ingredients, blood, alcohol or ingredients from carnivorous animals.

ISWA-standards compliant spas must use only halal beauty products as well as neutraceutical products, including vitamins and well-being supplements, manufactured from halal-certified sources. Also, halal-certified body oils and cosmetics need to be free from GMOs, alcohol, animal and human-derived ingredients. If food is served on premises, it should be halal-certified.

Complying with these requirements takes effort and care, said Danica Dsouza, director of marketing and communication at Zulal Wellness Resort.

“We offer a unique contemporary adaptation of TAIM throughout our services. Ancient wisdom and tradition are combined with modern science to bring a true harmony of healing to the guests. All the treatments are performed with strict adherence to traditional methods and teachings while employing the latest and most developed tools and techniques to truly maximize the efficiency of each procedure for a long-lasting result.”

These considerations feed into the spa’s design and construction with businesses taking into consideration the physical construct, treatment and procedures, and type of products used. The facility’s entrance should not be open to public view, so visitors can – if they choose – arrive without being seen, unless by close family members. The decoration must be compatible with Islam (clean, no human art forms, or pornography). Like hotels, spas may offer on-site prayer rooms.

Privacy is a key element of managing such spas, with hammams, standard steam rooms, treatment rooms and other rooms for deep cleansing services all single-gender areas. The services are also performed by same-gender professionally qualified technicians, dressed in clothing deemed appropriate under halal guidelines – certainly covering chests and abdomens.

In short, halal spas such as the Zulal Wellness Resort aim to be transformative – a starting point for a mindful, sustainable and healthy lifestyle.

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