Important guests in difficult times

Koran with compass in the hotel room, Arab staff and longer kitchen service: Muslim tourists can now live their culture without restrictions even in Swiss hotels. However, this presents hotel employees with new challenges.

Some of the guests strolling along Zurich's Bahnhofstrasse this morning come from Riyadh, Dubai or Doha. Wealthy Arab families who fled the sweltering heat at home to cooler countries. They stand out in the street scene: Arabs with mirrored glasses and loose-fitting, cream-colored pants accompany their mostly veiled wives to expensive jewelry and fashion stores.

A special service: several hotels now prepare food "halal," that is, according to Islamic dietary rules. Eva-Maria Lindner, from the Swissotel Zurich says: "We enable Muslim guests to observe their fasting period without any problems, even during their vacations." As a result, the kitchen stays open longer than usual to accommodate the meal times of Arab guests. They often arrive late at the hotel restaurant for iftar, the meal after sunset. All meals are served before and after sunset. Some guests want butchered meat; they don't drink cocktails, but fruit juices.

At Zurich airport, hotels are listed that offer a whole list of services that are compatible with Ramadan. In the Swissotel, rooms for communal prayer can be used on request, as well as prayer rugs and compasses for exact orientation to Mecca. Arabic TV channels and newspapers are available. Front desk staff can give Arab guests directions to surrounding mosques. Some even know tips for Lebanese, Moroccan and Tunisian restaurants.

Respect for Ramadan
While hotels in Geneva have long been accustomed to the image of Arab guests with bulling hookahs and the scent of peppermint, cities such as Zurich, St. Gallen or Basel still have some catching up to do when it comes to the Muslim way of life. They realize: Halal food alone is not enough. Hotel employees must also be familiar with the way of life of Arab guests. Must know that for many believers, the joyfully anticipated Ramadan period often goes hand in hand with spiritual exercises for inner purification, acts of charity – and socializing. Many don't know that Ramadan is the most joyous time of the year for some Muslims. Hotels are therefore increasingly investing in special intercultural training courses.

Muslim etiquette" includes, among other things, not looking the opposite sex in the eye for long periods of time. Also, one must never touch a local of one's own accord. One man's kiss on another's cheek means a gesture of friendship.

Hotel employees now also know that it is considerate not to smoke or drink alcohol in front of Arab guests during Ramadan. The fact that Swiss hotels now serve specialties such as hummus, couscous, falafel and pita bread, and even lend out prayer rugs, also has a tangible economic background: guests from oil states are highly lucrative financially. This clientele is indispensable for the Swiss tourism industry, which has been hit by the strong franc.

Always new ideas
The Bernese Oberland region, especially the fashionable Gstaad, has long recognized this fact. Well-heeled visitors from the Gulf States are regulars here. Whole floors are rented out to clans. The pioneers of "halal tourism" have learned a lot from the Islamic tourism industry. In this growing market, there are airlines, for example, where religious programs are also offered on board and prayer times are announced.

Swiss tourism experts are constantly coming up with new ideas for well-heeled guests from Arab countries. This summer, for example, Interlaken Tourism is organizing a "Halal Barbeque Cruise" on Lake Brienz. There, falafel and hummus will be served alongside Swiss folklore.

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