Dubai – MENA Herald: The UAE has climbed to become the second most popular destination in the global Muslim travel market, according to the most comprehensive research focusing on this fast-growing sector.

The MasterCard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2016, which covers 130 destinations, saw the UAE move up one spot from last year to take the second position behind Malaysia which retained its pole position on the list of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) destinations. Turkey, Indonesia and Qatar round off the top five.

Indonesia climbed two places to take the fourth spot while Bahrain became the biggest mover, jumping four spots to take the tenth position.

Singapore also retained its pole position for the non-OIC destinations, with Thailand, the UK, South Africa and Hong Kong making up the top five.

The study also revealed that in 2015, there were an estimated 117 million Muslim visitor arrivals globally, representing close to 10 percent of the entire travel market. This is forecasted to grow to 168 million visitors by 2020 equal to 11 percent of the market segment with a market value projected to exceed US$200 billion.

Asia and Europe were also revealed as the two leading regions in the world for attracting Muslim visitors – accounting for 87 percent of the entire market.

“Many already successful destinations around the world are looking to diversify their visitor base to maintain tourist growth rates in today’s increasingly competitive travel market and the UAE remains committed to intensifying its tourism offerings across all segments. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the country is making great strides in the global Muslim travel market as well rising to second place on the MasterCard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index 2016 is an achievement of enormous significance for the UAE, with the country retaining its popularity as a travel destination of choice for Muslim travellers year after year. We believe that the GMTI provides real value to businesses and governments looking to tap into this important market segment further,” said Eyad Al Kourdi, Senior Vice President and General Manager, UAE, MasterCard.

“The MasterCard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index 2016 has now become the number one tool for destinations around the world to realign their strategies to reach out to the Muslim consumer. One of the biggest trends we are seeing is non-OIC destinations making a concerted effort to attract the Muslim tourist and they now represent over 63 percent of the destinations covered in the GMTI. For example, Japan and Philippines have taken some major steps over the last few months to diversify their visitor arrivals and boost their economy in the process,” said Fazal Bahardeen, CEO of CrescentRating & HalalTrip.

The GMTI 2016 is the most comprehensive research available on one of the fastest-growing tourism sectors in the world, which represents 10 percent of the entire travel economy.

The GMTI looks at in-depth data covering 130 destinations, up from 100 in 2015. This is the first time such thorough insights have been provided on one of the world’s fastest-growing tourism sectors.

The Index helps destinations, travel services and investors to track the health and growth of this travel segment while benchmarking their individual progress in reaching out to this growing market.

All 130 destinations in the GMTI were scored against a backdrop of criteria that included suitability as a family holiday destination, the level of services and facilities it provides, accommodation options, marketing initiatives as well as visitor arrivals.

Each criterion was then weighted to make up the overall index score. This year, two new criteria – air connectivity and visa restrictions – were added to further enhance the Index.

UAE had an Index score of 74.7 placing it second in the overall combined list. Malaysia scored 81.9 while Turkey posted 73.9. In comparison, the highest scoring non-OIC destination Singapore scored 68.4 with second place Thailand at 59.5.

Taiwan and Japan have continued to improve their overall rankings and the average GMTI scores by region show Asia as the leading region.

The overall average GMTI score for the complete 130 destinations currently stands at 43.7. From a regional perspective, Asia Pacific destinations lead with an average GMTI score of 56.5.