By: Layan Damanhouri
Source: Saudi Gazette
Finding a halal restaurant or a place to pray while traveling in a foreign country is not always easy, which led entrepreneur Irfan Ahmad to create a travel app for Muslim travelers.
“During my travels, I wanted to know where I could find halal food. That was a big challenge for me,” Ahmad said in an interview with Saudi Gazette. “This project is not just about making profit but providing needed information to Muslims.”
Irhal is an app that offers city guides for 90 cities and is used by over 1.5 million people each year. Not only does it feature tourist attractions and travelers’ needs, it also features reviews of halal restaurants, mosque locations, prayer timings and qiblah directions.
“There are many individual apps for Muslims traveling but nobody writes reviews for them,” says Ahmad. The team at Irhal calls each restaurant to ask about availability of halal food and writes a description in the guide.
“It’s a growing need. There is not much content in Arabic,” he adds, which gives Irhal a competitive advantage. “We recently received one thousand requests for new cities to be added.”
The app has a 30% annual growth as a result.
The Arabic site is frequented by users from the GCC and Levant, 35% of which are Saudis.
According to the recent State of Global Islamic Economy report by Thomson Reuters, the Islamic travel market is worth $143 billion. By 2021, it is expected to rise to $243 billion where 150 million Muslims will be traveling excluding hajj and umrah.
“Our numbers are bigger than Chinese travelers yet the world is catering to Chinese tourists,” he says, adding there’s not enough attention to catering to Muslim travelers. “These statistics will now help businesses attract investors.”
Muslim tourists don’t necessarily travel to Muslim countries, according to the app’s database. Out of the top 25 cities, only 35% are Muslim countries. Finding halal places in non-Muslim countries does encourage more travel, however.
The app’s stats revealed that Amman is the top visited destination followed by Dubai and Doha.
Apps are impacting the tourism industry, according to Ahmad. “Nobody is going to look at a website when traveling. They use apps,” he says. “We have to update features all the time especially that wi-fi will be more accessible in the future.”