CrescentRating is the world's first independent rating and accreditation standard in Muslim travel, and it aims to dominate the world. The founder shares his success story and his plans on going global.
By 2020, the global value of Muslim travel is set to reach S$245 billion. Japan alone is expected to receive one million Muslims each year till 2020, according to TFK Corporation, a Japanese subsidiary of Singapore in- flight food catering group SATS.
But numbers weren’t what drove Mr Fazal Bahardeen's dream to start a website rating hotels on their ability to meet the Muslim traveller’s needs.
A practising Muslim himself, he always had difficulty finding Halal food and prayer rooms on the frequent business trips he took as an MNC executive.
During one such trip in 2006, he realised that the hospitality sector was oblivious to the needs of Muslim travellers, much less identified Muslims as a travel segment.
He wanted to do something about it, and then it struck him: “Why not come up with a rating system?”
Hence the name CrescentRating.
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In February 2007, Mr Fazal registered the domain name, even before he resigned. The father of four held on tightly to his business idea– and two years later, became his own boss after some 20 years as a corporate executive.
“CrescentRating was never meant to be confined to Singapore. Singapore’s too small. I wanted to dominate the world.”
You would have expected companies to welcome the pioneering rating system with open arms, eager to penetrate a new and growing market segment.
However, business has not grown as quickly as Mr Fazal had hoped.
“We are not just a start-up. We are creating a completely new market space, so it’s taken a lot more time than I thought,” he explains.
Yet, he soldiered on with the deep-rooted conviction that his dream was a feasible reality, one that would materialise on the global platform.
“CrescentRating was never meant to be confined to Singapore. Singapore’s too small. I wanted to dominate the world,” he says with a quiet chuckle.
CrescentRating’s first client, the Gulf Paradise Hotel in Doha, only came onboard in 2010.
“I still remember the exact moment. I was driving back from the office when I received their email saying they were ready to sign,” recalls Mr Fazal. Relief flooded over him, “knowing it was doable”.
The Gulf Paradise Hotel is still a client today, one of the more than 400 hotels spanning 50 countries rated by CrescentRating.
The business has since evolved through the years to include workshops, consultancy, training and HalalTrip.com, a B2C entity providing Muslim tour packages. Rateable categories have also expanded to include restaurants, theme parks, spas, shopping malls, hospitals and travel agencies, among others.
HalalTrip.com is CrescentRating’s website for consumers looking for Muslim travel packages.
Mr Fazal has always had his eye on Japan as a key market.
He explains: “The Japanese travel industry was looking at targeting Malaysia and Indonesia, which meant it needed to understand Muslim requirements.”
In early 2013, he engaged a Japanese partner to break into the market. “Our partner spoke with many hotels, many city governments. But we didn’t make any inroads,” he says.
Things did an about-turn last year when CrescentRating became the first Singaporean company to be awarded a consultancy project to develop Muslim-friendly tourism in Fukuoka.
IE Singapore’s office helped to guide Mr Fazal on the tendering format and procedure.
CrescentRating, a small firm among the big-boy contenders, eventually clinched the deal.
With the Fukuoka win, CrescentRating’s credibility received a huge boost. Opportunities followed. He was able to overcome further entry barriers with help from IE Singapore, which also introduced him to several potential partners.
“We’ve started doing workshops for cities like Kobe, Osaka and Yokohama. Recently, we signed a partnership with Japan’s second-largest tour operator H.I.S. to launch Muslim tour packages to Japan. Kyodo Publishing is also working with us on accreditation,” he says.
Since its foray into the Land of the Rising Sun, the company has seen a revenue increase of more than 200 per cent.
There’s no slowing down, of course.
CrescentRating now has set its sights on Korea and Taiwan – two destinations that have come up after close discussions with IE Singapore.
He says, “Japan and Korea are very different markets but share a lot of similarities in terms of doing business. The game plan always has been: Let’s try and do something in
“Once we know how to do it, it’ll be easier for us to replicate it in Korea.”
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The Global Company Partnership (GCP) programme provides relevant assistance to internationalising Singapore-based companies in the areas of building internal capabilities, manpower development, market access, and gaining access to financing.
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