KUALA LUMPUR, May 5 — One of the challenges I face when my Muslim friends ask me for recommendations when they travel to some of the cities I’ve visited, such as Tokyo or Munich, is to offer them halal food options. Authentic halal eateries can be hard to find in these places and I worry that they might not be entirely halal. What is a travel writer to do?
Enter Have Halal Will Travel (HHWT), a travel guide app that focuses on Muslim travellers.
The HHWT co-founders Melvin Goh @ Mikhail Goh (also the chief executive officer), Tengku Suzana and Elaine Tee met while they were studying. Goh says they were moved to start HHWT after finding it difficult to find halal food while they were on a six-month student exchange programme in Seoul, South Korea in 2013.
He recalls, “Back then, it was challenging to find halal food as there weren’t many food options, not to mention, authentic halal Korean food. All we could find online were listings with no photos and we didn’t know if the information was reliable. There wasn’t enough information for us to decide if it was worth it to make a 40-minute trip to check out a halal eatery.”
Realising how frustrating it could be for Muslim travellers when planning their trips, the trio decided they should build a consolidated resource providing rich content for this very purpose.
Thus the website www.havehalalwilltravel.com was started in 2015, with weekly postings of travel and halal food guides. The blog quickly grew in traction and in October 2015, the team decided to leave their jobs in a local media agency to focus on HHWT full time.
How is HHWT different from other apps? Suzana explains, “In a nutshell, we’re trying to inspire Muslims to see the world. Our mission is to make it easier for Muslims everywhere to explore different countries. That’s why we’re constantly improving our content to cover more destinations our readers want to visit.”
One way HHWT is trying to increase traffic to their site is by engaging with their user base through social media platforms, and by personally answering comments and queries.
“The HHWT Travel Planner App is probably the first mobile application in the market that focuses on trip planning specifically for Muslim travellers,” says Suzana. “Instead of relying on multiple sources to find information, the app simplifies the trip planning process by allowing travellers to easily find halal eateries, especially those serving yummy local cuisine – think halal bibimbap and ramen, attractions and nearby prayer spaces, all in one place.”
The first destination launched for the app is Seoul, South Korea. Users are able to find places they want to visit and add it to their itinerary on the app, which is free to use.
Tee believes that HHWT will be beneficial to everyone who loves experiencing local culture and trying local halal food. She adds, “We’re trying to make the trip planning experience as simple as possible, so travellers no longer have to go through the hassle of going through various websites and guide books to plan their trips. Also, they do not have to worry about the reliability of information.”
Creating the app was a very labour intensive process, according to Goh, especially the data collection. He explains, “Every single data point you see on the app is hand crafted by the team. We keyed in the descriptions for every attraction, restaurant and prayer space, rated it so that it would be easier for users to find the best places to go to, checked addresses and locations on the map, and sourced for photos that would help users in their decision making process.”
While it was extremely time consuming to check all information provided, the HHWT team wanted to ensure that everything was accurate as they knew how important this would be for Muslim users. Goh quips, “That’s why we did it ourselves.”
User feedback is crucial to HHWT’s continuous improvement. Sabrina shares, “We’ve received a number of encouraging emails and messages. These really keeps us motivated to keep striving. Some have been inspired by our guides to visit countries like Japan and South Korea, as they had not known previously that it would be easy to find halal food and places to pray in these countries.”
HHWT has also received positive comments from non-Muslims who found their guides and travel tips to be useful for their travels, thus expanding their reach beyond only Muslim users of the app. Tee says, “HHWT isn’t just for Muslims. There are many instances when both Muslims and non-Muslims travel together – take us for example – and our guides help to make their trip planning fun and simple.”
Next in the pipeline for HHWT is adding new features for the app, as well as more destinations, such as top tourist destination Tokyo. Goh says, “We’d like to turn HHWT into a global community where Muslims everywhere can help each other by giving their reviews and ratings, or adding in their own points to make the app more interactive. We also hope to host a community forum that will expand HHWT even further.”