“We want to be the world’s largest faith-based accommodation site”

The travel industry is responding to the rising influence of the Muslim traveler. Muslims are the fastest-growing religious group and a key audience for marketers. Muslim travelers account for over 10% of global tourism spending, according to a 2016 Salaam Standard study, and the MasterCard-Crescent Rating Global Muslim Travel Index estimates that Muslim travelers will be spending $220 billion per year by 2020.

To cater to this emerging audience, Hadi Shakuur created Muzbnb, a travel booking service for Muslims, by Muslims. Muzbnb aims to make its users feel comfortable and accepted by accommodating their faith-based needs. Launched in August 2017, the platform includes search filters such as prayer rugs and Islamic showers, and helps users find nearby mosques and halal restaurants. Ultimately, Shakuur hopes that Muzbnb will foster a more inclusive experience for all faith-forward travelers. We spoke with Shakuur about Muzbnb’s vision and future plans.

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Muzbnb

What is Muzbnb?

It’s a peer-to-peer homestay network, marketplace and app that is basically Airbnb for Muslims. We created the platform based on data about the global Muslim traveler, specifically that there were 121 million international Muslim travelers in 2016, according to the MasterCard-Crescent Rating Global Muslim Travel Index

What inspired you to create the platform?

We wanted to create a safer travel platform where people can connect and get to understand each other. Often, Muslim people don’t find many accommodating options, whether it’s where we can pray, where we can eat, or just wanting to stay with like-minded people who share the same values. We thought it was pretty timely and wanted to do something that’s never been done before for the Muslim community.

What sets the Muslim traveler apart?

Muslim travelers, especially in other parts of the world, spend a lot more money than general travelers. When we travel, we really travel. Especially in Southeast Asia, Muslims take nice vacations, and it’s a result of having extra disposable income. What makes us interesting is that we’re open to new experiences. There are Muslims in every culture and country, and we adapt to where we’re from, but also have an underlying similarity and a common thread throughout the world that binds us.

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Muzbnb

How have people responded to the platform?

The response has been very welcoming—we have people signing up and listing their homes from all over the world. We currently have about 3,000 subscribers and 130 listings, with homes in Switzerland, France, Italy, London, Malaysia and Australia—from a villa in Italy to a high-end apartment complex in London. We still have a long way to go to market, but our audience has been excited for the possibility of a travel option that caters to them.

What are the key elements that make a home Muslim-friendly?

First of all, the host has to be welcoming to Muslims and our values. Once you enter the home, there are some amenities that we have to use, such as prayer rugs, Qurans, halal food, or pots and pans that are sanitary according to our dietary restrictions. There’s layers to it—if you’re a Muslim woman, you may want to be able to stay with other women, and if you’re a man, you may want to be able to stay with other men and feel safe in both of those regards. Our worship and religious practices should be accommodated, but we don’t put a very strict guideline on what makes a home Muslim, because there are one billion Muslims and we all practice differently. Some people like to be more conservative and others are more open—it all depends on what that person prefers.

How have you designed Muzbnb to cater to different types of observance?

We’ve created different search filters which include halal food in the home, no smoking and no alcohol in the home, so we can be as transparent as possible. Right now, our top search filters are Qurans in the home and alcohol-free homes. We also let guests and hosts create bios and share more about themselves. We have a messaging feature on our platform where a guest can contact their host before they book, and say, for example, “I would like to book your home. You said that you have halal food—can you please give me more details about what you mean by that?”

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Muzbnb
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Do you envision partnering with other companies?

We’ve already partnered with Zabihah, which is a food app that lists halal restaurants in different countries, and with Islamic GPS, an augmented reality app that shows you where mosques and community centers are. We want to incorporate those features into our app so you can see, in the range of a few miles, where you can eat, where you can pray, where you can get halal entertainment and possibly help you meet up with other travelers.

What’s next?

In the near future, we are definitely going to open up to everyone. We want to be the world’s largest faith-based accommodation site, whether you’re Jewish, Christian, Buddhist or Hindu or otherwise. We would like Muzbnb to become an all-inclusive platform where users can find a home to rent, and also find halal hotels and restaurants and everything else that a Muslim traveler would need.

There’s a lot that can be offered to non-Muslims as well, whether it’s a non-Muslim family that wants to be in a safe location, or any user looking for home in Malaysia or Dubai who likes what we have on our site. We actually have non-Muslims who have listed their homes, as well as non-Muslims who have joined our site looking to book homes. We want to start to incorporate filters for their religious values as well, and create a faith haven for people who put their religious practices at the forefront of travel.