Denmark snubs bustling halal tourism industry

Denmark is ranked below many of its European counterparts when it comes to offering Muslim-friendly travel services and accommodation, 2018’s Global Muslim Travel Index finds.

Denmark snubs bustling halal tourism industry
Photos: AFP

In the Netherlands, Muslim tourists can find their way to their nearest mosque by using a tailor-made halal app.

In Germany and Switzerland, hotel rooms are equipped with a Quran and a compass so that Muslim guests know in what direction they should pray towards Mecca.

Such Muslim-friendly considerations remain a rarity in Denmark and represent a missed opportunity according to the companies behind the study, Mastercard and Crescentrating, who reported Muslim tourism continues to thrive, reaching 131 million travellers in 2017.

Of the 130 countries put under the spyglass for 2018’s Global Muslim Travel Index, Denmark came in at a modest 84th place. 

Unsurprisingly other Muslim countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey and Qatar came on top of the list, but a number of European countries including Sweden, Norway and Germany scored higher for halal hospitality.

That represents a drop for Denmark on 2016’s ranking, when they came in 72nd place ahead of Nordic neighbours Sweden (ranked 75), Norway (77) and Finland (97).

“The country’s halal slaughter ban is what makes it difficult to be a Muslim guest in Denmark,” Mehmet Taran, director of Borealis Destination Management (a company organizing Muslim group travel in Scandinavia.

“They can always get a shawarma, but it's hard to find restaurants, especially ones that aren’t expensive and are serving halal meat. 

“You need to know who to ask.”

If Denmark’s hospitality industry started to make concessions for Muslim guests, data suggests they have a lot to gain financially. 

In 2017, the number of global Muslim holidaymakers grew by 10 million and it’s estimated to reach 156 million by 2020, representing 10 percent of the travel segment.

Many of them young, well-educated and affluent. In fact, the global halal tourism industry is currently worth $220 billion, DKK1.4 trillion. 

“The fast growing Muslim travel segment is an opportunity in plain sight but in order to benefit from it, it is crucial to understand the needs and preferences of Muslim travelers and how to adapt and tailor products and services for them“ Fazal Bahardeen, CEO of CrescentRating & HalalTrip Safdar is quoted as saying in the study.

VisitDenmark CEO Flemming Bruhn told Danish news agency Ritzau that the public tourism body is working in particular to attract tourists from Sweden, Norway, Germany, Holland, Italy, Great Britain and the United States.

“We have limited resources, and we use them elsewhere, for example in southern Germany, where Denmark is still unknown to many. 

“But it is clear that we are also watching new countries, such as Indonesia, which has a large Muslim population.”

According to Danish trade organization Horesta, there are no hotels in Denmark with Muslim prayer rooms or Qurans in hotel rooms. 

“This is because there are relatively few guests from Muslim countries”, Horesta member Nadeem Wasi told Ritzau.

“I'm sure they’ll start coming. It's only a matter of demand.”


Denmark’s ‘freetown’ Christiania hangs onto soul, 50 years on

A refuge for anarchists, hippies and artists, Denmark's 'freetown' Christiania turns 50 on Sunday, and though it hasn't completely avoided the encroachment of modernity and capitalism, its free-wheeling soul remains intact.

Denmark's 'freetown' Christiania hangs onto soul, 50 years on
Christiania, one of Copenhagen's major tourist attractions, celebrates its 50th anniversary on Sunday. JENS NOERGAARD LARSEN / SCANPIX / AFP

Nestled in the heart of Copenhagen, Christiania is seen by some as a progressive social experiment, while others simply see it as a den of drugs.

On September 26th, 1971, a band of guitar-laden hippies transformed an abandoned army barracks in central Copenhagen into their home. They raised their “freedom flag” and named their new home “Christiania, Freetown” after the part of the city where it is located.

They wanted to establish an alternative society, guided by the principles of peace and love, where decisions were made collectively and laws were not enforced.

Soft drugs were freely available, and repurposing, salvaging and sharing was favoured over buying new.

It was a community “that belonged to everybody and to no one”, said Ole Lykke, who moved into the 34-hectare (84-acre) enclave in the 1970s.

These principles remain well-rooted today, but the area has changed in many ways: tourists weave through its cobblestone roads, and the once-reviled market economy is in full swing.

Perhaps most importantly, it is no longer a squat. Residents became legal landowners when they bought some of the land from the Danish state in 2012.

Now it is home to some 900 people, many artists and activists, along with restaurants, cafes and shops, popular among the half a million tourists that visit annually.

“The site is more ‘normal’,” says a smiling Lykke, a slender 75-year-old with ruffled silver hair, who passionately promotes Christiania, its independence and thriving cultural scene.

Legislation has been enforced since 2013 — though a tongue-in-cheek sign above the exit points out that those leaving the area will be entering the European Union.

‘Embrace change’
It is Christiania’s ability to adapt with the times that has allowed it to survive, says Helen Jarvis, a University of Newcastle professor of social geography engagement.

“Christiania is unique,” says Jarvis, who lived in Christiania in 2010.

“(It) endures because it continues to evolve and embrace change”.

Some of those changes would have been unthinkable at the start.

Residents secured a bank loan for several million euros to be able to buy the land, and now Christiania is run independently through a foundation.

They also now pay wages to the around 40 people employed by Christiania, including trash collectors and daycare workers.

“Money is now very important,” admits Lykke, who is an archivist and is currently exhibiting 100 posters chronicling Christiania’s history at a Copenhagen museum.

But it hasn’t forgotten its roots.

“Socially and culturally, Christiania hasn’t changed very much,” he says, noting that the community’s needs still come first.

‘Judged a little’
Christiania has remained a cultural hub — before the pandemic almost two dozen concerts were held every week and its theatres were packed.

But it is still beset by its reputations as a drugs hub.

Though parts of Christiania are tranquil, lush and green with few buildings, others are bustling, with a post office, mini-market, healthcare centre, and Pusher Street, the notorious drug market.

Lykke says it’s a side of Christiania most could do without.

“Most of us would like to get rid of it. But as long as (marijuana use) is prohibited, as long as Denmark doesn’t want to decriminalise or legalise, we will have this problem,” says Lykke.

While still officially illegal, soft drugs like marijuana and hash are tolerated — though not in excess.

Since early 2020, Copenhagen police have seized more than one tonne of cannabis and more than a million euros.

“Sometimes I don’t tell people that I live here because you get judged a little bit. Like, ‘Oh, you must be into marijuana and you must be a smoker’,” says Anemone, a 34-year-old photographer.

For others, Christiania’s relaxed nature is part of the appeal.

“It’s different from what I know, I really want to see it,” laughs Mirka, a Czech teacher who’s come to have a look around.