Halal Travel Guide Founder Soumayah Hamdi

Assalamu alaikum everybody. Yvonne here from my kitchen. I have a really special guest for you today. So, so humbly of Halal Travel Guide is here. Thank you for coming Soumaya. Thanks for having me, Yvonne. It's so great to be here with you. It'll be here virtually. I wish we could do this in person. Yes, Soumaya is hailing from London. at 9:08 PM, right? You're about 8 PM and I'm in California so we're you know, uh afternoon and we are going to talk today about Hello Travel and this is a topic that you guys have heard a lot from me about since the time I was in Turkey and started really getting into the topic of traveling and then the whole concept of Halal Travel but Soumaya is the expert in this topic of Halal Travel.

So, she's going to talk to us today about what that means and all the exciting things that are on the radar for Hello Travel and about our company. Hello Travel. Guide but first, let me introduce you to her more formally and tell you all about who she is and what she is doing with Hello Travel Guide. Soumaya Hamdi is the founder and managing director of Halal Travel Guide, The travel company making it easier for Muslims to enjoy much better travel experiences. Hello, Travel Guide works in partnership with local hosts from around the world to host trips designed with adventure seeking Muslims in mind as well as offering free digital travel guides to help Muslims plan better independent trips travel guide recently launched their own instant booking platform with experiences including discovering the golden age of in Uzbekistan, Desert, stargazing, and we road tripping with Muslims in Barbados and white water rafting in Bosnia.

Soumaya has been featured in numerous international publications including the Guardian Observer and the New York Times and is described as the entrepreneur redefining Travel for millennial Muslims. Welcome, welcome, welcome to me. We so blessed to have you and I'm happy to call you my friend and colleague in the industry. Oh, what an introduction you want on a two time. Thank you so much for having me. Yeah. and it's you know, been so great to have the opportunity to connect with you and to share a lot of synergies about Halal tourism because I think food is obviously very deeply connected in tourism. So, I'm really looking forward to today's conversation actually. Yes. well to me and I met a couple of years ago and is at the world's uh World Halal Summit. Uh we were both speakers there and it's the first time knowing you and knowing about your super interesting business and then we started talking and I realized what a super interesting person you are and we just sort of hit it up and we became fast friends and started to really talk about this intersection of food and travel which we'll get to later on in the interview um but Soumaya tell everybody about You're interesting business.

How you got started in this and then what is this concept of Halal Travel? Because a lot of people question like, why does travel need to be Halal? What is what it all have to do with travel? You're the expert and you can explain that to us. So, mean, it's interesting because in some destinations like a kind of Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia, there's a full appreciation for Halal Travel but I've seen in kind of the Uk Europe Us. We haven't fully embraced uh the fact that there is a need for Halal tourism and I think it's because we've just got used to quite low standards.

So, I mean, Halal Travel essentially is everything that makes it easier for Muslims to travel better. Right? And I think the top kind of priorities for traveling tend to be obviously food and then availability of prayer, prayer spaces. So, mosques or prayer rooms whether it's an airport or you know, at the destination that you're visiting but beyond that, you also want to feel welcome in the destination that you're visiting particularly if you're visibly Muslim. So, I think this is particularly a big one for Muslim women.

Um and you also want to have access to kind of family activities maybe segregated pools or beaches. um services where you don't feel like it's not family friendly, this kind of thing. So, there is definitely a big need for increasing tourism services and in fact, there's been a huge growth in the last 10 years. I mean, you you probably already heard of it already, Yvonne but a lot of people are surprised when they hear that places like Japan and South Korea have spent the last few years really trying to improve the services that they provide to Muslim and travelers so that more Muslims come and travel which is why now you're finding in Korea, you can find a prayer space in train stations, you'll find much more Halal restaurants you'll find um authentic Halal Korean foods like beef bulgogi, and kimchi, whatever.

So, they already recognize that there is a need uh to cater to Muslims much in the same way that people cater to vegetarian and and this kind of thing. Um they're definitely fully embracing that. So, um it's a it's a huge opportunity for us to learn to travel better and really how hello Travel guys started was um it was 2015. I was on maternity leave. I had my baby. She was like 6 months less than 6 months at the time 4 months Uh me and my decided to go to Singapore and then do a road trip through Malaysia and then go on to South Korea and Japan.

Yeah. With baby. I know. I mean, to be honest, um traveling with kids for a lot of people seems to fit but honestly opens a lot of doors for you and people can be so friendly because they see your baby especially in that region because Caucasian babies look so different. So they're like, oh my god and then it's a conversation starter and all of a sudden you've got a new friend but I digress. Yeah. Yeah. It's it you get to jump cues like there are a lot of pugs. Yeah. Well, you get to know a culture by how they treat their elderly and and the children, right.

So yeah, I think that's super friendly like um South Korea very very friendly um with my daughter Singapore Malaysia like super friendly and it was really nice to feel welcome and and and and is that you may not necessarily feel welcome as the obvious uh kind of minorities. So, it was on this trip actually that we struggled to find halal food and we also struggled to find kind of local authentic Halal food and we were surprised to experience this problem even in Malaysia which is obviously majority Muslim country. You know, it wasn't that straightforward. You can just turn up to a place and assume it was Helen um and it's assumed that you'd enjoy the food. It just didn't work like that. So, basically, Um I started writing about the places that we had gone to and and travel guides basically to these destinations just to make it easier for the next person who came along so that they'd at least have some personal recommendations to go by that I didn't have and then it was literally from there.

That Halal Travel Guide was born um and then a couple of years later, I did a trip to Bosnia and really showcase the destination and this was when Bosnia was starting to become much more popular as a destination because of the Islamic heritage uh because it's much of money for money to visit in Europe compared to some of the nearby destinations. I mean, there's so many reasons to visit Bosnia but um we did like a big uh kind of advertising campaign for Bosnia and then after that, people started messaging saying, okay, it's great. You've shared the itinerary. you've shared these tips but are you actually doing trips to Bosnia? Oh, so some advice to actually going to do it which is a big leap. Um uh but we were fortunate because we have a wonderful local contact in Bosnia and he said, I think you guys should host a trip and I'll do it in partnership with you. Um we did So, 2018, we hosted our first trip to Bosnia and it was a huge success and then, since then, we've added on several more trips, several more experiences, more destinations.

So now, we go to Uzbekistan, we're going to Barbados. Uh we're going to uh so many different places and all of this is in partnership with local Muslim communities and it's all about bridging those communities, bringing people together, um sharing stories from our shared Islamic heritage and just traveling in a way that's much better for me and you and also much better for the destinations that you visit as well. Sure, sure. Uh you know, it is interesting. Um you mentioned Japan and Korea and also there's Thailand right II mean I know from a food perspective that I just there are always on my radar because of the options for Halal food growing uh in their airports and things like that. What what do you think is the reason that it's happening in Asia? in places that necessarily Muslim Centric. What? what is the what's happening in those countries? There's a couple of reasons. Um One of the reasons is Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. We know that already but also the kind of average age of Muslims is under the age of thirty.

So, you've got a very large proportion of young Muslims. Many of whom have been uh very well educated. They're working professionals. They've got money to spend and they want to be able to travel and they want to be able to explore and obviously kind of in the Asia region. You have a huge population of I mean, Indonesia is home to the largest population of Muslims Malaysia as well. and um it's I think it's been triggered by visits from by Malaysian and Indonesian but also to a certain extent. uh visitors coming in from the Gulf who have the money to spend and want to experience something different. So, for proximity and uh disposable income. Yes, I mean a disposable income has a huge impact um and because this market didn't exist 10 years ago, people would only have the money like if you're diaspora living in the US or living in the Uk, you'd spend your money and spend your summer at home back home, right? That's where you go but now, it's not that it's not the case anymore.

People are wanting to travel to different destinations and in places like Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand, you mentioned they have been very forward thinking at literally embracing the opportunity and they're like, hey, like, we welcome this. We want with some Chavez. Um they recognize that Muslim travelers expect high-quality um and high standards when it comes to food when it comes to hygiene, um this kind of thing and they're quite happy to provide those facilities and and you know, you'll know anyway, um like in China for example, Halal has become um a label associated with high quality products So, there there's a very different mentality towards Halal compared to the mentality that you see in the UK in Europe in the US where there hasn't been this embracing of anything. let alone hello tourism right there. lot of apprehension, right? a lot of reluctance um and I think part of that is uh kind kind of Islamophobia fears Muslims, the way that Muslims have been portrayed in the media in the last 20 years or so that they they haven't received. We haven't received as much in Japan and in South Korea where they don't constantly have this bombardment of a particular type of portrayal of Muslims media plays a big role.

Yeah, huge. Wow. Wow. That a really interesting point because you know, when I was writing my cookbooks and recipes for global cuisine, I would think, you know, there's so many Muslims in France for example, Uh it would be pretty easy to make, you know, traditional French food Halal or when you come when it comes to travel, you know, to guide people towards the places where there's more interesting Halal food or you know, where people could find services but it seems like that never really blossomed and I mean, for reasons, you just explained. It's just so interesting that a place I never really thought of Japan for example or Thailand would would would not only just be receptive but like basically roll out the red carpet, You know, that's that's amazing and and there's kind of a lot of overlap in terms of culture, you know, that sort of the cleanliness, the manners.

It's really interesting um and I'm I'm happy that's those are on my bucket list of places Japan. Korea for sure. So, I'm excited about it. They're amazing places especially like food wise. Yeah. Yeah. It's so different. You think you might ever create trips in those places? Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Inshallah. I mean, it was my hope before the pandemic to go to Korea and do the research trip um and and put an itinerary together um but inshallah, definitely soon. Um we've actually just published um a travel guide to Tokyo and it's like we explore a lot of the food in there because food is one of the best ways that you can experience the local culture, right? Yes.

Yeah. And You think I can't try it because it's not Halal. Uh but now that's just not the case and you have so many options and that's the thing I love about what you do is that you're you're you're taking these places that um even that are visibly Muslim. Let's say turkey and Uzbekistan and you're you're highlighting certain aspects of the of the local region to even make them Muslim Travelers excited to go and interested in going a little deeper um and that's really important.

I know you already we have a lot of fans of turkey here so to mention that um you do have a few trips going on in Turkey and then we have some things planned but what is it that you can do in a Muslim country that um makes things more exciting for people rather than they can say, oh I already know about that. I already know that history. What is it about the Islamic heritage that you sort of pull out and make interesting for people? So, I think the way that we Muslim travelers in general approach traveling to a Muslim country is that we assume that there's not that much need to plan ahead or do that much research because you're in a in a land where mosques are readily available where our food is readily available and you know, that's pretty much it, right? So, we don't, I think do put as much effort in um in researching or investing that time and looking into things as deeply but also I find that um um Muslims general are quite reluctant to hire a local tour guides.

I don't know why. I think it's something that we need to get used to and get around to because and I I'm guilty of this I should say like I myself, 5 years ago in Istanbul, I had a local tour guide approached me when I was outside the how Sophia and I just said like, you you know, thank Maybe next time, I'll just like read up on it for now and he's like, it's not the, it's not the same and honestly, I'm ashamed to admit it but it took me about seven trips to stab before I did my first walking tour and genuinely within the first 2 hours of that walking tour, I learn more about Istanbul than I had in the trips previously. Wow. And it just brings everything to life. like it has so much meaning. I think some of us, you know, I myself, I'm guilty of that too where I feel like, no, no, no.

I want to be off the beaten path and do my own thing and being like Dora the Explorer but you can do that better with a local tour guide, right? Because they're the ones who know the hidden spots. Yeah, I really didn't really realize that I'm still talking with you because but you also pick the right people. I think that's that's what it amounts to. Two, it's like somebody who really knows what they're talking about. and they're passionate about that history. Uh you know, honesty, we've been really fortunate and that we've just managed to connect with some amazing people. I can't take credit for them because these all people that have studied for years and like their passion is just written on their faces when they tell you their stories like um yeah, one of the local guys that we work with in Istanbul, his name is Hector and he is just brilliant. like he can roll off stories about uh Mi so easily and he brings them to live so that when you enter a mosque like the sole for example and you're admiring its beauty, he takes you so much deeper and he literally transports you back 400 or so years and shares stories about sin and his kind of cheeky ways and with that and it just make changes the whole thing and it really just it's it's so immersive and I can't it's hard to explain unless you're there with him.

I think it's a good one. It's so much fun and you can't get these kind of stories from any tour guide like you said it's only ones that willing to acknowledge um Islamic history and Muslim contributions to Islamic history and how that all ties in with a wider uh context of everything else that's taking place. So, the same thing in Andalusia, right? Um. Mm hmm. Yeah. Haber is the most visited monument in the world. I think if I'm not mistaken and people go through every day, thousands of people go through every day and they don't know that it's a that they're looking at on the walls which is I just made all the effort to go there and then you're not actually connecting with the history of this building.

Yes, it's beautiful to look at. That's that's lovely but on a deeper level, why do you have sort of milk in certain places above the throne of and what is that magnify and how does that tie in with, you know, so many other things and it just brings the whole thing to life when you have someone who can share their research and they years of experience with you, it's not enough to Go and be there. I mean, I think there's a time and place to to go to a location and soak it in, you know, spend some time but you're right that you appreciate it so much more when you understand those little details that you know, you can flip through a travel book and you can read, Okay, this this happened but it's not the same as somebody who's giving you information from their heart and their hard-earned, you know, studying and and and those little details that you know, you're just not going to unless somebody um local somebody invested in the culture and who really truly wants people to learn and appreciate and go back home and and tell others about that too.

I think that the education part of it is um the the the richness that we take home with us, right? Yeah, that's the bit that transforms you. I think because you can go to a destination and have a really nice time and do all the bucket list experiences and and visit all the famous attractions but you'll come home feeling like a break. You have a nice change of scenery but that's it and then there are some trips where you you come back and you genuinely feel transformed like you've unlocked something within yourself that you didn't know needed to unlocking. Maybe it's a new passion. Maybe it's something that you've learned about yourself and and then that's how you really start and that's traveling, right? That's taking it to new level. Yes. Isn't that the reason why? you know, II used to feel like travel was an escape, you know, from from like when I was younger Oh, it's just an escape from the day to day. You know, you get to explore a new place. It's exciting but as I get older, I feel like traveling to places is more.

Um it's more uh soul touching. It's more something like you know, you're not looking for something but you're you're you're you're looking to uh help yourself be transformed uh by by the place you know, like places affect you, right? The people affect you. The food we're looking to experience the magic in a way, you know, that we don't get at home. um but also, you know, I think that's why things are changing in terms of the the type of travel people want, right? It's not just going and seeing whatever is quote unquote touristy anymore.

It's about the experiences that people want experiences, right? They want food that is Homemade. handmade artisan. You know, they want um you know, little bits and pieces of the local culture that they're never going to find. Um you know, without having taken the leap into these neighborhoods or you know, back streets of Istanbul, whatever it is. You know, I think that the travel groups that I'm part of, I'm I'm you know, I'm seeing that that's what people are looking for.

Would you agree that that's the trend we're moving towards definitely. I think um the pandemic has accelerated it. It was it's it was happening before the pandemic where like I think if you kind of look at travel and tourism over the last six decades or so, it's grown immensely. Um kind of like unprecedented in human history. Has it been possible for so many people to just zip around the world um in airplanes so easily? Yeah, these troops, you know, you mentioned even the tutor to me before, right? He traveled for years like sometimes um So, it's completely unprecedented and what we've seen in travel and tourism over the last 60 years or so is that It hasn't really benefited local destinations that much.

Actually, it's caused a lot of harm. Um local communities uh to kind of cultural heritage uh the environment Um yeah and it's yeah it's a shame really because in actual fact, travel and tourism has the potential to literally solve or help to solve all seventeen of the sustainable development goals. you know, like um employing local people, especially women, especially young people representing cultural heritage. Um you know, for example, when you pay to do I don't know Alot making masterclass it is or when you pay to learn how they do the uh Atlas silk weaving and Abe's you're doing your a little bit. you're having an amazing experience and you're also helping to preserve that intangible cultural heritage which is so important. So, we're going to see a lot more interest in experiences where people can feel like like they're connected where they feel like they've learned something um where they feel like maybe they can go home and try something a little bit new whether it's something artistic, whether it's a start reading, whatever it is for sure.

I think across the board. You know, this disconnect this connection that we felt during the pandemic. People now want to come back and feel like my life. I can build more purpose into my life and one of the best ways that you can do that is to travel and by having these authentic experiences that draw you closer to the local community and bring you in because it's there's nothing more special I think than going to a destination where you don't have any blood relatives there and they make you feel like at home. Yeah, That's what we're in Bosnia. Like when we take people there each and every time, our local guides just make you feel like you've joined a new family and it's so special. Yeah. I think um you really turned me on to bosnia II mean. I never really thought of it as a travel destination. I mean, I have friends from Bosnia but IIII really never knew that it would it would be a place that we could navigate as I just never crossed my mind and you really opened me up to that and II think um just backtracking for a second.

Our conversations about food have really given a lot of perspective to me about, you know, this combination of food and I mean, I always love, I would go to destinations basically for the food but for example, um when it came to Bosnia, you you opened up my mind to some of the really unique foods that are there that I mean II thought of like the Borax and the pastries but you were telling me about, you know, the green juices and you were telling me, you know, you would love that The scenery and the the naturalness of it.

So, sort of marriage of food and travel is something we've been talking about for a long time now and um that's given us some ideas for places. I mean, after I was living in Turkey for a while, we talked about, you know, doing a culinary tour there. We're not there yet because of the pandemic but um we've had some interesting conversations that you recorded on your podcast. So, I would like you to just let us know. I'm going to put a link in the comments of where people can follow your podcast because I know I'm not the only one he interviewed but there's I'm sure lots of interesting discussions there.

So, can you tell us how people can listen to that. Yes. So, um if you you can find them on any platform, Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, wherever. Um it's it's called a better Way Way to Travel and it kind of encapsulates the theme that we're trying to get into which is helping Muslims to travel better um in a way that benefits you as a traveler and also the local destination that you're visiting. the local people, the local community and what we've done is we've done season one in which we got a selection of local tour guide from around the world. Um you know, to Kenya, we did Andalusia. We did Barbados. Um we did Bosnia and we did Istanbul and we've done just uh perspectives of these destinations that maybe you haven't heard of before that you're not that familiar with because like a place like Istanbul is so iconic.

Yes. Um and then there are still so many stories that people don't know about it. So, um how could you, you know, you can go to Istanbul like you you said seven times and you like that but I mean I That's because of my ignorance because I think if I had the first time going with a local guy, not just a local but like an expert local who's read up on this stuff then at least the next six times, I would have learned a lot more each time.

So, it's you can make your life easier depending on how you choose to travel and that's what I wanted to encapsulate in the podcast because yeah, you can go to any destination by yourself and you can do everything yourself. That's fine but you can literally take your experience to a whole new level because when you work with a local expert who has spent years um learning about the local destination and building connections, whether it's with a local artisans or restaurateurs or accommodation providers, they can open doors for you that you just can't open yourself as a traveler who's maybe just going through for a week or for a few days. So, um the podcast was like a nice kind of tour series. If you're looking to do a mini virtual tour, it's a better way to travel and yeah, you can find it on all platforms and um me and Yvonne done a mini series which will be season two and Charlotte's going to be releasing in the autumn and it's going to be looking into this kind of uh the crossroads between Halal Food and Halal Travel which I'm very excited to to share with everyone.

Yeah, we've we've got some interesting things on the radar I think um you know, my experience living in in Turkey and being part of the local community. I was you know very passionate and excited and you know kind of share that with you and so I think we might have found some open ground break and and uh to get people to come and to really experience a different kind of of turkey outside of assemble outside of the big cities and we hope to be able to do that. I mean and you're you're so receptive and open to those ideas and I think um you you seem to really also get a good team of people together to to do your chores. So um you don't you know take it all on yourself and you know I think you just you operate in a really productive and smart way So, I highly encourage people to, you know, visit your website and I posted the link uh in the comments. So, those of you who can't travel right now are not feeling comfortable to travel, there's still ways to benefit from your website.

If you want to tell us like what if people aren't interested in going on tour right now, what can I learn from your your information on your website? Yeah, so our website um we've got two sections. So, we've got the trip section where you can have a read up on our troops and we've got dates in there for 2022 for people who want to plan ahead um but we also wanted it to be a free resource to genuinely just be of service to the Muslim community because it's still so hard to find a reliable um information to inspire you about where to go to inform you about places that you should go to and to visit. So, we've got a lot of resources on there exploring Islamic Heritage. So, um we have uh a #campaign actually called Own your narrative and I started this one in 2017 and it was after I came back a tour with a local Spanish Muslim community in Andalusia and I was just completely blown away by this like local Spanish Muslim community who are reviving their heritage and their history.

That's pretty much been suppressed for the last last 400 years since the Spanish inquisition and bringing it to life through these walking tours and it really inspired me to help other Muslims to uh find a way to reconnect with their identity with their heritage because all of this fits into your identity and like myself growing up as a young Muslim uh you know, kind of uh a teenager and post 911 climates.

You're not exactly inspired by what you see of Muslims on TV as a Muslim and let alone as a non Muslim. Yeah. To to then get access um because you know, these these stories exist but they're not a lot of them aren't in English or they have been translated So you don't you can't find them but it's it's very difficult. These stories have been buried but like right here in Europe um on my door that I can have access to centuries worth of Islamic heritage. Um you know, in Bosnian Andalusia and it's a game changer for me because all of a sudden, I feel like I have a heritage that I can connect to um in places that otherwise I feel like I have no connection to and the the beauty of that is it doesn't matter if you're Pakistani or uh Palestinian.

You all Nigerian, you're Nigerian, wherever you're from by virtue of our shared faith, we all have a right and an interest in the Islamic heritage So that's what I find so inspiring. Yeah. think that the stories that we read about in Islamic history, uh if you can go and visit those places, it becomes really exciting to kind of and it's a good opportunity for people to save their children to to learn, you know, you learn about it in the books but when you can go and and visit these places, it's just a lifetime. It's an opportunity of a lifetime to do. I personally felt very connected to what you do because I have, you know, I wasn't raised Muslim My heritage is Sicilian and Spanish or Hispanic which goes back to under Lucia because I've done the DNA test.

So, I know and it's so interesting because I feel like going back to those places and digging a little deeper Um it's it's it helps me understand my culture. Number one, my husband and myself, my family, why we do certain things we do but I think it's good for people to know a little bit more about who they are If they have personal um you know, personal bloodline that goes back to it. For example, Alicia or Italy or whatever. It's it's interesting for people to learn more at the source, you know, and today, uh that's more possible than it was 20 years ago. I think 20 years ago, I was in Spain as a student a long time ago.

I'm not going to age myself here but um going and the Lucy. you really wouldn't get the information you would get today. Um I mean, it wasn't it wasn't even now like um even now and Alicia, you can't find this information by and large um from the local tour guides and that's one of the reasons why. So you're seeing um he's excellently started his own company called Es.

Um one of the reasons why he started his business is because he's similar to you actually and that he's of Latin American descendant. I think Cuban and his mother's Italian. and then they moved back to Spain and he grew up there all his life pretty much and he living in Andalusia which is like the heart of the Islamic heritage that he never learned about at school. Got the Alhambra on his doorstep and he's like, well, why don't you know any of this stuff? This is my heritage. It's also part of my national history and yet, I don't know it and so, it's not that they've started to share it more. Um you want, it's that local Muslims are literally having to dig it out themselves.

So, like putting the pieces together themselves are based on reading in different areas, digging up old money scripts, this kind of thing. Those are gems of our communities and gems. I mean III went through this experience with them when I went to Istanbul and I was looking for cookbooks of ottoman. period. I wanted to dig deeper into what what did they really make during the Ottoman Empire, You know, yes, You have recipes from the like the soul's palace and stuff but maybe it's you and there there just wasn't a lot because history tells us that a lot of things were burned, you know, destroyed but there are people who have done the work and you have to kind of dig them out and you have to figure out who they are and you know, maybe it's in Turkish and not in English. So, if you really want to know something. I think you you really have to invest in those people who have to. Yeah. Yeah. So, it's it's amazing that you know them and and that you're working with them and I interestingly enough, we we did uh a presentation for World Travel Association about Halal Travel Halal Food Halal Food and Travel um to a non Muslim audience and there was so much interest in in community.

Our travelers Halal. Where do you think that's stemming from? I mean, I think it starts off with the fact that people are curious Um Halal has got a bad wrap uh in the Uk, Us Europe in general because of misinformation but um it's inevitable that businesses and destinations are noticing that the Muslim pound or the Muslim Dollar is becoming powerful and you'll have seen, right? That kind of uh a five five or 10 years ago, Ramadan would pass the supermarkets by no one would notice and now, all of a sudden, you've got the supermarkets doing big Ramadan campaigns right in and that kind of thing and yeah, I think yeah, before you know it, they'll be on to the ledger and and all for you because they recognize that there's markets that is undeserved and they and they want to serve it.

So you want to see industry. right? Yes. I mean, 13 years ago, it was like, what? What's Halal? And what is Ramadan? I mean, that was like a whole another question mark but you know, step by step. Yeah. When when one big retailer jumps on board and says, hey, we we're in this. I mean, they've done their market research so they know they know what's viable um and when they go forward, others tend to follow but it still seems like we have a long way to go in food with We do. I think it's it's sort of like how um I think my worry for Halal tourism is that we are going to copy what we've seen in the global travel and tourism market rather than looking to our faith and the principles within our own faith to build something uh that's organic um and that embodies Islam holistically because yeah, we've seen that the the pauses in the travel that's being caused by the pandemic.

You've seen places like Venice, New Zealand, massively popular tourist destinations have been like, well, hang on a minute Actually all travelers that we've been getting. Yeah, like financially, they've been very beneficial but they've caused a lot of damage to our communities, to our environment. We don't want to go back to that. We don't want to. like in Venice, they've said no like no cruise ships in our lagoon like we will not respect to them for that.

And we've got structural damage they have to deal with Um you know, everything. I mean I mean, isn't it must be so hellish just having to tackle go down your road, right And you're like ambushed by tourists wherever you go. That's that's the with tourist destinations. They can just be, you know, economically uh great for a few months but then, you know, you're left with a lot of if the if the destinations aren't prepared to deal with the growth of quick toll that it takes on the environment.

I like I've read about um uh this a Tulum and Plaza Del Carmen in Mexico. I was there during my college and those places were pristine and gorgeous and inexpensive but they were environmentally beautiful and the pictures I see now, I've not been back but they have trouble with the water pollution. They they couldn't sustain such so many tourists in such a short time that got packed in there. the growth and development that the now that the reef is is being damaged and the sea life is is hurting. It's sad but you know, the local economy needs it but how much is that? How much of that local economy actually benefits is also a question. This is it. This is literally you hit the nail on the head. Um tourism is a huge issue because you get international corporations coming in. well, especially um with resorts uh multi chain hotels, they mop up the And then the locals don't benefit that much at all to be honest and in fact, in some cases, in some destinations, you'll find you'll have these like massive sprawling um places like I don't know with a thousand rooms and then tourists are literally told do not leave these premises because it's not safe for you to go out and be in the local environment and I mean a traveling there, you know, this is it and it's this is going back to this idea of having an escape as opposed to going to experience something completely different and it's great We've been told a lie that we need to go and escape on a beach for 5 days.

I mean, let's be honest, you get bored after day three and then you want to start doing stuff, right? It's all to try to escape from your life, you know, like you have a life that you don't need to escape from but you you go to places because you actually want to, you know, enhance your life not to hear a different language, right? Yeah. Yes. Thank you. All the different food and just you know, meet different people and you know, it's I feel so feel literally richer after having gone to places. It's not about money at all. It's it's just those experiences and I feel like there's so few places left where that's available anymore and and you made a really good point about Um you know, I'm not I'm not going to be able to say exactly what you said but basically, what it boils down to is are we going to keep our ethics in line as Muslims and expand this whole Halal Travel concept in ways that doesn't sell our soul for money.

And I mean, I hope that we will look like like I said, look to our own principles because you know, when we look at our own principles, we see that there is an to like monopolies in in Islamic societies. We sure we supposed to, You know, we're supposed to be entrepreneurial. We're supposed to be business minded. We're supposed to be go getters at this point with the balance. You know, like, you know how you feel like companies now have corporate social responsibility as a key thing for all companies but it's like a side a side thing that isn't part and parcel of a company itself whereas when we look at Islamic principles, this notion of at social responsibilities is literally at the core of the business itself because in the back to make sure that when you're doing business, you're not doing any harm to the people in your chain. Uh you know, you're not harming their homes, their local environment, you're paying a fair price, you're paying on time and these are issues that we see time and again in business whether it's in travel and tourism, whether it's in the food industry, it's um and if we we do it properly and build like Halal tourism from the ground holistically, really purely based on Islamic principles.

I genuinely think that we would be able to offer a model for the global travel and tourism market to look at and say this is actually a sustainable way of growing tourism and and something that we can all adopt you. You could just replace everything you said about travel with food and and I feel the same way. It's the same exact thing. You know, we see a lot of Halal products but are they healthy? Are they sustainable? What is the what is the supply chain look like? Are the animals being treated? It's that whole holistic thing. you're talking about the domino effect.

One thing goes wrong. that's all kind of unhealthy or unsustainable and and I think um you just hit the nail on the head and I hope that um people look to you for modeling more um programs, itineraries, projects in the Halal Travel space because you you you really really said it perfectly the way it's supposed to be done and I don't think it I think that's doable. It is. I think that, you know, honestly, I can't take credit because it's all about working with locals and and I've been blessed with wonderful local people to work with and it's through them. I've learned so much more about how to approach designing a trip and how to approach visiting a destination like um you know how to do so in a way that is respectful to the people that we're visiting.

um respectful of them as as people who have a to give us and who are opening their doors to us and enabling us to come and and have these and build these connections. So, Right. It's it's just about kind of working in partnership taking it into account what locals have to say, what benefits them, what has the potential to cause harm and then thinking, okay, so how can I build something? How might I build uh a travel company that helps Muslims to connect with their identity through travel and that also benefits the local destination. How might I build a travel company That um is is beneficial and and builds bridges between communities from all over the world between Muslims from all over the world and I think we can genuinely do that with Halal Travel Guide and that's my dream.

Um so it's it's a work in progress. You're you're a great model for lots of reasons. you know, not just in the travel space but in the entrepreneurial space because every business should be taking those things into account anyway. you know, so so there there's a lot more coming from you in the future. I know inshallah inshallah I have to say I mean inshallah So now, we're looking at inshallah Post-covid Right now, we're hopefully getting to the end of this Uh it's looking better. and I know there's been so many travel restrictions and and even in the Uk, it's been really frustrating because you guys have been like not able to go to a lot of places. It's so frustrating. um but there's hope, right? There's places to go soon and and uh what do you think this Post-covid World of travel is going to look like? Where are people going to want to go? What kind of things are they going to want to do and how is that change from before the pandemic? So, I think we're going to see that um people want to do staying in one destination rather than city or country hopping because of the different restrictions that you get at the borders.

I think people will be more reluctant to take indirect flights again for the same reason they'll be wanting to do direct flights so they might stay a bit closer to home especially if kind of restrictions change at the last minute. they might feel, you know, I'd rather do a staycation or travel to the destination that's close to me. I mean it really varies because there's a variety of some places like I think Americans like you guys can go anywhere. pretty much anywhere and we're we have changing rules every week. Pretty much. It feels like it's really uh it's yeah, I'd stay abreast of those things and I'm like, I just I can't believe the UK is like that but there must be we've opened up a bit so like they created this traffic light system and now they have since pretty much Renee on half of the traffic light system to be in effect. Yeah. so that you can you can more or less travel a bit more now. Oh, good.

Good. I have to be honest. if I was looking at flights to to turkey and a friend of mine, she found a really cheap flight from LA to assemble. It was like 500 Bucks but she said, but yeah, you just have to go through London and I was like, no, you know what you just said because I was like, what if things close? I'm not going to, you know, be stuck and I mean, you want to get to your destination.

You know, you don't want to be well. well, actually. So earlier this week, um our government announced that fully vaccinated US travelers are now able to come to the UK and you don't have to quarantine. So, so I can actually come and see you. Yes. Yes, you can. No, because for the longest time, it was like four like just iffy. Right. You know. Yeah. Yeah. It has been iffy. It has been, you know, the thing is when I came back from Turkey and III self quarantined in the US, in a hotel and it's expensive. You cannot, you know, Nobody wants to, you know, have that added travel expense when you're, you know, trying to get to a destination, you know, and and the time and everything.

So, I think you're right about you. You couldn't have said it better though about the direct flights because I was like, you know, it could be a cheap ticket but then you end up paying all this money in like hotels and stuff so, forget it and I got stuck in London once and it was super draining on the budget. I mean, it's the city. The other thing as well is like the PCR test because for some destinations, you still have to take a PCR test even if you're listening and you know, because they're like 72 or 48 hours, right? On how long your flight is, you might land and have to take another test before you go on to the next destination. It's a bit more logistics and I think this is all the more reason to work with a travel designer or with a travel company that this easier for you but also help you to have a lot more assurance when you do your bookings.

Yeah, A lot of people lost their money from their bookings during the pandemic and it's not on and you do need to want to kind of advocate on your behalf sometimes, right? And they know they they have experience working with the airlines, working with everything. They they've they're experience. They can give you lots of advice and help and II used to want to do everything myself and now, I'm kind of thinking, you know, after working with you, talking with you, I I'm I'm I'm becoming less stubborn about all of that. I think it's uh it's a really good thing and you know, especially if you're a woman traveling uh you know, to group but you're going alone to that group or something you know, you really want to be have some more assurances that um you're going to be taking care of.

You're going to be okay. You're going to be safe. You're going to be um you know, not not stuck somewhere that you didn't expect to be. So, things are things are changing but I think we've learned a lot about travel and and about different destinations during the pandemic. It's ironic as that sounds because we were hold up at home but I think those of us who love to travel were kind of tuned in and tapped into the what was happening in travel every restriction Yeah.

And um things like that. So, you know, I've I've now now hopefully things will get less complicated. I'm hoping So there's there's optimism on the on the horizon. So, I mean, I feel like to be honest, it's still a long way to go because unfortunately, a lot of countries successfully secured vaccinations or started vaccination programs and we're fortunate because We have governments that have been, I think quite greedy um and self-interested but that's what you know, that's just what you'd expect of your government to kind of purchase a whole bunch of vaccinations and then yeah, uh other people are left behind. So, I think you know, the key now is to get these vaccinations rolled out to as many destinations as possible to really start to give people confidence again to to travel. Yeah and it's and and people need to be aware of you know the vaccination that they have had if they're vaccinated versus what's in the country.

They're going. Yeah. because of their some countries are requiring boosters now. Um countries are outright saying that certain other countries vaccinations don't count. Um It can get hairy. Yeah. Yeah. And that's a whole lot of pharmaceutical. uh like yeah, that's a lot of but it's all part of, you know, once you leave your home, you know, a lot of things about destinations that you're traveling to. So, so um you know II think these are the kind of things that you are you're writing about on Hello Travel Guide or you're talking about are you mentioned on social media, do you? Yeah, I mean this one's tricky because it really depends on where your base so we've done kind of some general tips on um how to fly safely in the new normal like how to be prepared uh what to pack, what to expect.

Um you know, like turning up a lot at the airport, just taking into account delays, that kind of thing. Um we did do a few updates on I think updating the restrictions is just pointless because of changing, changing all the time. Um so we're just trying to keep people kind of optimistic and inspired which is why we we started the podcast during the pandemic actually because we want people to feel like they've got places that they can dream about inshallah when it's when it's possible to do so.

Armchair Armchair Travel has always been a thing anyway, right? Why why would the Rick Steve's um you know, travel show so popular when people didn't even go to those places but they just felt like they could travel by sitting, you know, so we did what we could do during the pandemic and I think that uh your podcast is going to be, you know, very interesting for people to to listen to but the danger is then you want to go everywhere that you talk about in your podcast.

So. So what The first destination you are planning to go to after all of these restrictions are lifted or you're ready to go. So, inshallah, Hopefully, Bosnia. So, I mean, the plan is that we actually have uh a trip to Bosnia coming up um in like 2 weeks. Nice. Um it would be the first kind of trip since the pandemic started. I mean, we were really strict. We decided not to host any trips. Yeah. Um during the pandemic and we've only started now because um you know, a lot of our guests are vaccinated so we decided now would be a good time to do. Any cases are starting to fall so. yeah inshallah Inshallah Barbados next. Um we're hoping to go ahead with this in the autumn. Um so, we're feeling optimistic and we've, you know, we're taking kind of a precautionary measures to make sure that people feel safe, they feel comfortable and the most important thing is that um you know, they have just as an amazing time as they did before the pandemic.

Sure. I would like to go to all of those places and more with you. You're super interesting and uh the things that you've just do designing are just I think very very unique. So, uh we'll be putting links up for people to follow you on Instagram and Facebook and where else are you? Twitter? My Instagram and Facebook. That's what I can manage other way but we're on Twitter. We're on LinkedIn.

Uh but yeah, you want to be on the Instagram and the website as well and the website. Okay. Well, any last tips you would like any? Let's just share with our audience about traveling or about uh you know, anything related to what you do. Um I'd say if you're thinking of traveling soon or you're already kind of just dreaming about planning your next trip, be really intention about what you want to get out of your trip. Maximize what you can get out of it in the sense of are you going to just kind of have a break? Are you going to seek knowledge? Are you going to to feel a bit of transformation? Why are you going? And I really think about that and think about how then can make facilitate your trips so that you achieve that goal because if you're going to go to the hassle of traveling somewhere, um flying, you're, you know, spending all that money, make sure that you've done it right.

Um and definitely I would say 100% wherever you At least have one walking tour with the local guides. Build that connection. Build that relationship, get that open door so that you have someone who can give you tips on where to eat Halal local food. Yeah. Where you should avoid the tourist traps, how to responsibly, so many things. So, yeah, but my number one tip would be just be really intentional about intentional about what you're doing and connect with the local in advance of your trip. So, you set yourself up with a friend Intentional Travel. Conscious Travel Conscious living. That's all very um you know, sort of trendy to talk about but I hope that's a trend that stays because it it's um important whether it's about travel or food or life in general but uh it can get kind of all of it on your on your trips.

So, that's very exciting. Well, I think we have a lot to look forward to by following you and seeing what you come up with next and I personally hope that we have more conversations here that we can share with with our audiences Thank you so much for your time. I know you're a busy mom and uh busy entrepreneurs. So, appreciate you taking the time to come here uh in your evening.

So, thank you so much. Yeah. thank you. It's been really enjoyable. It's always enjoyable speaking with you. So, thank you so much for hosting me and I hope next inshallah, I'll be hosting you. Yes, inshallah anytime I'm I'm there. Alright. well, if you guys still have questions, please feel free to add them in the comments.

There will be a replay on Youtube@YouTube.com slash my kitchen and you can to me. on her website. Hello, Travel Guide.net and then on Instagram, are you Hello Travel Guide or is it? Hello. Hello, Travel Guide. Yeah, you can find Halal Travel Guide, My personal profile is is too long to say. So, just go and hang out and you'll find me there somewhere. Alright And I attended quite a bit too. So people can also find uh your story. Oh yeah, that's my group. So, uh but anyway, if you guys have questions, please continue to ask them and we'll for the monsoon but thank you so much Soumaya.

This has been awesome and uh I hope you can come again soon.

As found on YouTube

Halal Travel Guide Founder Soumayah Hamdi

We talk all things travel with Soumayah Hamdi, the UK-based Founder of Halal Travel Guide. She designs unique tours and experiences of Islamic heritage sites around the world.