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Special ‘Halal’ food for Muslim visitors

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MOSCOW: A hotel in Moscow plans to attract Muslim visitors by offering a room for prayers and a Quran on the bedside table along with facilitation of ‘Halal’ food.

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“Around 70 per cent of our guests are from overseas and 13 per cent of these come from Muslim countries, especially Iran,” said Lyubov Shiyan, marketing director at the Aerostar hotel.

“Our Muslim visitors were constantly asking for a separate prayer room or a special menu,” she said. “We wanted everyone who came here to fee at home.” To make that happen, the hotel had to go through a rigorous procedure before it could finally be certified halal by Muslim officials in Russia and launch the service this month.

But the exceeding job seems like it could be worth it.

These are not easy times for Russia’s tourism industry with the numbers of visitors – especially from the West- falling in recent months amid the worst East-West anxieties since the Cold War over the crisis in Ukraine.

Industry sources set the drop in Western travelers, particularly from the US and Britain, at 30 to 50 per cent. That has sent hotels mixing up to tempt guests from other parts of the globe specifically Muslim nations in the Mideast and Asia that have place no sanctions on Moscow over its interference in Ukraine.

“We equipped 20 rooms out of the 308 in the hotel with prayer mat, a basin for ablution and a small compass that indicates the direction of Makkah,” said Shiyan.

The visitors staying in the specially customized housing at the hotel, in the capital’s north halfway between Sheremetyevo International Airport and downtown Moscow will also find a copy of the Quran provided.

“Even the shampoo and soap in the rooms have been certified as halal and do not contain any animal fats or alcohol,” she added.

Two prayer rooms – one for men and one for women – have been established and a separate kitchen will be cooking exclusively halal food.

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“You won’t find any pork or ham here,” chef Vitaly Ukhanov said. “All the crockery is new and has never been used in the main kitchen,” added the cook.

Discretion, however, is established. Though Muslim clients are served at a separate group of tables away from the main buffet, there is no sign indication it is a halal section and they are tended to by a special team of waiters.

The funding has already started paying off for this purpose, which hosts many high-level Iranian businessmen. In the first two weeks since its launch the hotel has already encouraged reservations from Malaysia and Iran for the service.

“Due to the fall in the number of visitors from EU and the US, the Russian tourist industry has started paying greater attention to people coming from Muslim nations,” said Samat Sadykov, from the Halal International Center for Standardization and Certification in Moscow.

Creating the right conditions for them to have a comfortable stay here has become all the more important,” he said. “Halal services are now in high demand.” In spite of being home to some 20 million Muslims, Russia today has only two hotels – both in the traditionally Muslim region of Tatastan – that are officially recognized as halal, Sadykov said.

Another hotel in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi is also implementing for the status, since the 2014 Winter Olympics pointed to the lack of appropriate conveniences to meet the requirements of Muslim athletes like prayer room and halal menus.

“It is totally insufficient,” Sadykov deplored.

Besides, other Sochi hotels, nonetheless, are seeking offering similar characteristics for Muslim visitors, with the Olympic facilities set to host future high-level sports events including some of the 2018 World Cup football matches.

“If we now add in the number of tourists and businessmen coming to Russia from the Middle East, Turkey or Iran then we’re talking about a truly enormous number of potential customers,” said Sadykov.

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