Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Economics of Islam -- Part I: If I owned a hotel in Egypt

A dimension of Islam and Economics that I haven't touched upon is the economic dimension of increased religiosity among Muslims worldwide (at least in form for most, and in substance for many). Manifestations of the economic dimension of this increased religiosity cannot be missed. For instance, one may cite:

  • Clothing stores specializing not only in modest clothes, but explicitly marketed or labeled as "clothes for muhajjabat" (ملابس المحجبات). Part of that movement is to create a parallel fashion industry, built around the notion of an Islamic "uniform" (الزي الإسلامي), as it is sometimes called. This makes it difficult for preexisting clothing stores to compete for this -- the fastest growing garment market segment, hence giving the "Islamic clothing store" a decided competitive advantage.
  • Arabic satellite TV channels started with televangelist models (Amr Khaled being the most obvious example, but other models exist, catering variously to the fiqhi oriented, the spiritually oriented, the historically oriented, etc.). They have recently branched into the video clip channels as well (which remain the most watched channels, if coffee shops at shopping malls in Cairo are any indication). First, the songs of Sami Yusuf started showing up every 20 or so songs, then the Qur'anic reciter Mishari bin Rashed's "tala`a al-badru" started playing even more frequently. Now, it is probably only a matter of time before a 100% religious-oriented video clip channel is launched, to rival the soft-pornography variety (although it is far from obvious that deviating from the current mixed format of entertainment and religion would be profitable; the owners of those satellite channels may have done their research).

At any rate, what I plan to do here is to write about obvious extensions of this model of "economics of Islam" that may prove useful for Muslim countries and businesses. The first idea is to utilize the "religious entertainment" phenomenon -- started by the likes of `Umar `Abdul-Kafi in private gatherings of Egyptian upper-middle-class women -- to jump start a new type of religious tourism.

If I owned a hotel in Egypt, say at Hurghada or Alexandria, for instance, and I wanted to make a lot of money, here's what I would do: during holiday seasons, I would invite a televangelist like Amr Khaled or Tariq Suwaidan, along with a singer like Sami Yusuf or local variations thereof, maybe even some of the offshoots of Sufi Tariqas whose traditional songs are modernized by the likes of Sami Yusuf. I would invite them to stay at the hotel for a week, giving one performance after lunch and one in the evening. Then, I would publicize the event widely. I am sure that the hotel will be fully booked for those events. To maximize leverage of those events, one could spread the lectures/concerts over two weeks, say, by having them only over long weekends (Thu, Fri, Sat), and requiring bookings for the whole week if a family wants to stay at the hotel during those performances.

Then, I would have a contract with those religious entertainment figures to spend random periods of time at the hotel (minimum of four days a month, say, in addition to the widely publicized weeks). The understanding will be that if you happen to be staying at the hotel, then you would meet with people informally for a lecture, song session, etc. Lured by the chance to be part of a smaller gathering with those cult heroes, hotel occupancy rates will stay high most of the year.

There will be a substitution effect, no doubt. You wouldn't get many Italian or German tourists if you become known as "the Amr Khaled" hotel. However, your business would be booming just as a clothing store that switches to "muhajjaba clothes" would.


Blogger Tariq Nelson said...

Sounds great, but one flaw that I see is that after some time, it would seem to get a little old. Perhaps I am being naive here

A once a year event such as you described, with Amr Khaled et al would be good. It would no doubt fill several hotels. But what about the other days of the year?

I have often thought that the concept of "Islamic" cruise ship vacations in the Muslim world would be lucrative. As your concept with the hotels mentioned, on these cruises, people like Amr Khaled, Tariq Swaidan, Tariq Ramadan et al could be invited(brought one at a time) throughout the year for special events. The ship and rooms would be designed in such a way where couples can enjoy dinner together without the woman having to cover and separate swimming for females and other things could be offered as well.

It is a concept where religious couples could enjoy a romantic vacation

10:16 AM  
Blogger ney_reed said...

redefining our culture...

just wondering... in entertainment world the law of diminishing marginal returns for the utility of consumer is extremely high... people start loosing interest/enthusiasm fast and within a matter of time and entertainment providers have to re-engineer again to excite the consumers to draw them. its always a perpetual cycle.

now in this "religious entertainment", when consumers start loosing enthusiasm about it after its first cycle, how safely can it re-engineer itself without loosing its essence?

in singapore the state do not permit satelite channels or even all private tv channels.likewise the state has not allowed religious channels in order to protect secularism and so we are not seeing the kind of media growth that you mention in the arab world. however religious entertainment is taking other forms, notably travel tours to remote Muslim communities such as those in Mongolia, trade fairs etc

religious entertainment indeed is a big potential industry.

however what i am concerned about is the impact of it. should it be not universal and integrated with the outside, then it will lead to more isolation of Muslim communities into deeper comfort zones.

8:07 PM  
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11:20 PM  

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