SEOUL, Feb. 19 (Korea Bizwire) — South Korean tourism officials are poised to introduce more Muslim-friendly places following criticism over the lack of halal restaurants in the country.
The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) will launch Halal Restaurant Week again on a bigger scale between August and October this year, with a total of 250 halal restaurants set to be in operation by the end of this year.
With the goal of attracting 3 million foreign visitors this year, the Busan Metropolitan City Government is in talks with Muslim travel agencies to develop Muslim-friendly travel programs.
The latest moves come after criticism that there is a lack of Muslim-friendly venues in the country, including halal restaurants and prayer rooms.
According to last year’s report from the KTO on Muslim tourists in South Korea, nearly 38 percent of the respondents said food was an issue.
Only 13 restaurants have been officially certified as halal in South Korea by the Korea Muslim Federation (KMF) as of last December, with six of them located in Itaewon, Seoul.
Not even a single restaurant in tourist hot spots such as Myeong-dong and Jeju Island has been recognized as Muslim-friendly by the KMF, restricting choice for Muslim visitors.
Halal refers to food permissible under traditional Islamic law, including vegetables, grain, seafood, chicken and beef.
Despite efforts by the KTO, including its own halal restaurant standards, few restaurants have opted to participate in the program.
Another criticism is leveled against the lack of prayer rooms, as praying is a crucial part of religious life for Muslims. There are 25 prayer rooms around the country, including mosques, according to the KTO.
Only luxury hotels seem to be ready to accommodate Muslim tourists who also pray in private, such as in their hotel rooms.
“With 1.7 billion Muslims increasing their significance in the tourism industry, efforts to attract them will only accelerate,” one industry official said.
In the past, the push to attract Muslim tourists has been met with backlash.
Plans for a mobile prayer room for Muslims at the PyeongChang Olympics were scrapped after facing criticism from Christian communities earlier this month.