Samia Omar Bwana, the founder of Halal Safaris, wants to inspire Muslim travellers to vacation in Lamu, Watamu, Tsavo and some private conservancies in Maasai Mara and Serengeti.
Through her tour company, she tailors halal-friendly travel packages for her customers, including hotels and lodges that serve halal food, have prayer facilities, Ramadhan services, water-friendly washrooms, recreational spaces with privacy and an environment that is not Islamophobic.
As Kenya attracts an increasing number of tourists coming in for game drives, yoga and art festivals, to walk on the beaches while watching the beautiful sunsets, Samia says, it has not targeted the Muslim traveller.
Globally, halal travel is a new niche market with spending expected to grow to Sh28 trillion ($274 billion) by 2023, up from Sh18 trillion ($177 billion) in 2017, according to State of the Islamic Economy Report 2018/2019.
In 2018, it is estimated that there were 140 million international Muslim visitors and the number is projected to reach 230 million by 2026.
There is also the rise of the adventurous female Muslim traveller who wishes to explore Instagram-worthy destinations and share her experiences through photos and videos.
Despite organising trips, Samia chronicles halal destinations.
“It’s not that these places are only for Muslims, but that most people interested in such travel services are Muslims,” says Samia, who was previously in charge of Trade, Tourism, Culture, and Natural Resources in Lamu.
Samia started the company with her sister in 2018 with less than Sh100,000. Some of her customers are solo travellers and women-only groups.
“We used to plan trips for friends and after some time we thought of turning our passion into a business. So far we’ve documented Muslim-friendly destinations in Kenya and Tanzania,” says Samia.
Lamu, she says, is a gem caught between a bush and a beach. And this is one destination that she is marketing to Muslim travellers who want to dine and sleep in halal hotels.
Lamu is rich with history, it has wildlife, a beach, and attractions such as Pate Island, Takwa ruins, Kiwayu Island and Kiunga Marine National Reserve.
Travelling together with her family as a child made her love seeing new places and experiencing new things.
“I started travelling with my family at a young age as my mother used to work for Kenya Wildlife Service, so I could visit national parks. But my first travel independently was when I was 17 years,” she says.
Her company targets the luxury traveller, she says, because it is easier to get some of the Muslim friendly services in high-end hotels.
“It’s harder to go to a budget hotel and request for halal food yet it does not have private chefs or private spaces. We have partnered with a number of hotels in Lamu, Watamu, Tsavo, Maasai Mara and Serengeti,” she says.
For now, Lamu is the top preferred destination for Muslim travellers. It has a high concentration of private villas where guests can stay in private beach houses, with their own pools and private chef.
Her first organised group trip dubbed ‘Sisters Safari’ was to Lamu where the guests toured the archipelago, did a dhow cruise, and visited the UNESCO World heritage Site of Lamu.
“We decided it would be for women-only because despite more women yearning to travel nowadays, very few travel alone. It was very liberating as I remember a time when it was so difficult for a woman to travel alone in Kenya and Africa,” says Samia.
Women-only travel, she says, has broken stereotypes and shown that an African Muslim woman can book a holiday alone and have a good time without alcohol and parties, and in modest wear.
“Furthermore for families that want to visit Kenya and had no idea that we have halal lodges, or that halal food options in Africa, the increased awareness has helped have them consider Kenya as a tourist destination,” she says.
Halal Safaris has also partnered with Crescentrating.com, which is the world’s leading halal travel expert as their service provider in Kenya.