Director-General of Islamic Tourism Centre (ITC)

Dato’ Dr Mohmed Razip Hasan, 61, took up his current post in February 2020 at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in Malaysia. Viewing it both as a challenge and opportunity to serve the country’s tourism industry from the Islamic tourism and hospitality perspectives, he believes in providing a different and influential leadership that is agile and decisive to ensure ITC’s sustainability. The former Tourism Malaysia deputy DG (Promotion) also subscribes to developing new talents, new skills and competencies, especially among the next generation of leaders in ITC and the industry.

What is your definition of Islamic tourism?
Its definition is rather broad yet focused. To simplify it, Islamic tourism is when you or a group engage in travel and hospitality activities to explore, learn and appreciate a destination’s Islamic history, arts, culture, civilisation, heritage, architecture, economy, education, business as well as its health and wellness. You get inspired by the signs of the Almighty’s creations and experience the Islamic way of life in conformity with the Islamic faith. It shows you Islamic tourism’s diversity and magnitude.

How has the disruptive and unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic impacted it?
The global border closures during the pandemic prevented people from travelling freely. We naturally saw fewer tourists visiting Malaysia the past two years with Muslim tourist arrivals down from 5.3 million in 2019 to 882,631 in 2020 as airlines globally became grounded and airport operations almost came to a halt. However, ITC saw this period as an opportunity to reflect, review and redesign its programmes to suit the complexities of the time.

How significant is Islamic tourism’s contribution to Malaysia’s tourism industry, which is now on the path of recovery?
Before the pandemic, Muslim tourist arrivals and their expenditures contributed 20% respectively to Malaysia’s total arrivals and receipts. The source markets came from the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) region, West Asia, South Asia and long-haul markets with huge presence of Muslim communities.

We expect Malaysia’s tourism recovery taking place in phases since not all countries have relaxed their travel restrictions. Looking at the latest developments in Europe, we anticipate travel patterns and behaviours to change in tandem with the increase in travel cost due to the recent hike in oil prices.

Nevertheless, ITC is optimistic of a steady recovery of Muslim tourist arrivals from the regional and medium-haul markets. Both the destination management organisations (DMOs) at federal and state levels must work together with industry players to facilitate global travel as Islamic tourism is an important component of this industry. Malaysia must maintain and improve its leading position in this growing potential sector or we will simply lose out to our competitors.

Under your leadership, what are some efforts made by ITC to strengthen Islamic tourism further?
Among my first moves was the rebranding of ITC as a global player. We strengthened our relationship with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and its organ, the Statistical, Economic and Social Research and Training Centre for Islamic Countries (SESRIC); OIC’s Standing Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation (COMCEC), and the Standards and Metrology Institute for Islamic Countries (SMIIC). It was an honour when ITC was nominated by the Department of Standards Malaysia and accepted by SMIIC as the lead coordinator representing our country to develop standards on the halal spa services at the OIC level.

The invitation from the Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry in 2021 for us to speak on Islamic tourism and the Muslim consumer at the Global Business Forum held in conjunction with Expo 2020 Dubai served as a good platform to reach out to a wide corporate audience. It also validated the importance of Islamic tourism for investment and business.

Working with the ASEAN, Indonesia- Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, we leaned towards collaborations and online activities to make the most of our limited resources to help solidify the Islamic tourism ecosystem besides ensuring resilience and sustainability.

We also expanded the Muslim-friendly tourism (MFT) concept to include hospitality. The Muslim-friendly tourism and hospitality (MFTH) term was coined and became aligned with our agenda for inclusivity and sustainability. This was further strengthened with the development of MFT Products, Hospitality and Packages (MFT ProHPack) recognition with plans to expand them overseas. This covers medical facilities and airports as well.

Please elaborate on ITC’s new business philosophy, “New thinking, New actions, New results” for 2021-25.
In order to chart our way amid the pandemic, we established a Strategic Development Plan 2021-2025 detailing our expanded roles
as the way forward for Malaysia to remain competitive, inclusive, and sustainable within the Islamic tourism space. Key to that growth strategy was our new business philosophy where we challenged ourselves to look at new ways of doing things, focusing on cooperation with stakeholders, strengthening ties with the industry and fortifying the ITC branding both at home and abroad. It is not business as usual as the pandemic had changed the business landscape.

What are some of the achievements of the new business philosophy thus far?
It has led us to create strong linkages with government agencies, tourism industry players, academic and training institutions, tourism consultants, destination marketing organisations (DMOs) and foreign embassies in Malaysia to organise unique and beneficial programmes for different target audience. They include the youth, tour guides and foreign government officials through various events such as the World Islamic Tourism Conference (WITC) and Islamic Tourism Entrepreneurship and Leadership Seminar (ITELS).

We also put our new business philosophy into practice when we organised the ITC Corporate Forum: Women In Islamic Tourism Economy on July 8, 2021. It opened our eyes to the potential of women travellers as strong drivers of Islamic tourism growth. The same philosophy also allowed us to uncover how Islamic tourism could bring the spa industry to the next level and resolve certain long- standing challenges.

Our unique business philosophy also enabled ITC to address its own workforce’s human capital needs when we enrolled our managers and senior-level executives in the Business and Leadership Coaching training to equip them with high-level thinking skills and capabilities to lead the organisation forward.

Another important initiative was the Memorandum of Understanding signed with Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia (JAKIM) via its agency, Institut Pengajian Islam & Dakwah Sabah, to establish a market-driven Islamic tourism curriculum in academia that aligns with our vision to develop human capital needed for a sustainable and robust Islamic tourism industry. We have also established similar partnerships with agencies such as International Centre for Education in Islamic Finance to conduct micro and macro research on Islamic tourism that would help shape the understanding and potential of this industry.

How many support staff does ITC have?
ITC is a fairly lean organisation with 20 staff working in Research and Training, Industry Development, Corporate Communications, Digital as well as Corporate Development and Finance. With such a small outfit, we rely on partnerships and close engagements across all sectors to drive our efforts.

How do you hope to encourage more youth participation in Islamic tourism?
After successfully initiating a one-day ITELS last October, we aim to reach out to more young people this year through a few more ITELS series in Penang, Kuala Terengganu and Kuching by engaging different parties to share their experiences, motivations, ideas and success stories. We see the youth’s potential in Islamic tourism business product and service delivery, including Islamic-based app development, faith-based media and entertainment content, modest fashion and personal care products.

Tell us more about ITC’s Muslim-Friendly Accommodation Recognition (MFAR) initiative. Who are its participants and what are the current numbers?
This initiative provides the framework for both local and internationally branded hotel operators in Malaysia who fulfill the Muslim tourists’ needs to be recognised as a Muslim- friendly hotel. The MFAR branding has three categories – Silver, Gold and Platinum – to reflect the varying levels of Muslim-friendly services and facilities offered by these hotels.

Currently, 53 hotels in Malaysia have been recognised. The international brands include Hilton, Hyatt, Pullman, Westin, Sofitel, Intercontinental and Mövenpick. Among the home-grown brands are Sunway Hotels and Resorts, Tamu Hotel and Suites, The Light, Perdana KLCC and Kota Bharu, Adya Hotel Langkawi, RAIA Hotels in Kota Kinabalu and Terengganu, Dorsett Putrajaya, Zenith Putrajaya, Amari Johor Bahru, and Mardhiyyah Hotel and Suites.

Likewise, what is the ITC’s Muslim- Friendly Tour Guides (MFTGs) course all about?
This course was initiated to add value to the tour guides’ service delivery given the unique needs of this market. Currently, we have 62 MFTGs certified by ITC with each given a special MFTG card upon completing the course. This card complements their existing tour guide licence issued by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture. We also organise for the MFTGs a refresher course, which include training on life-saving skills such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Regarding your plans for 2022 to work with key local academic institutions to advance Islamic tourism through research initiatives, who else do you have in mind?
Besides working with many of our leading local tertiary institutions, we may expand our partnerships to regional and international higher learning institutions. Our collaborations extend beyond research activities to developing frameworks and guidelines that support industry participation in Islamic tourism. There is also the area of curriculum and module development as well as training where we work together towards youth talent development and knowledge enhancement among tourism professionals.

Work apart, what are your interests or hobbies?
I enjoy reading, writing, classical music, theatre and travel, especially to the countryside and nature-based destinations. I am also a fan of history and culture, always keen to understand how world events impact a country’s future, its people and civilisation.

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