Brussels: Halal hotel rooms

Brussels: Halal hotel rooms

Starting in 2011, hotels in Brussels could get a halal label. No porn channels, no pork, but with a Koran and a prayer rug, and a pointer towards Mecca.

The label will be awarded by BECI (Brussels enterprises, commerce and industry) starting in 2011. It is a European first.

"The aim at first is to award a label to rooms per floor. But we don't rule out to later have a type of 'omni-halal' label for whole hotels, which have separate pools, among other things" says Bruno Bernard, a consultant for BECI.

Bernard says attention is being paid to all the details. For example, it shouldn't be possible to deliver a ham sandwich by mistake to a halal room, and the hotel should ensure that there are no prostitution on its premises.

Asks if this concept won't encounter resistance, Bernard told La Libre Belgique: "When you go on vacation in Egypt or Turkey, you're happy that you can calmly drink a beer in the hotel bar. Halal-rooms in Brussels are simply the same."

Several hotels, including some owned by Persian Gulf citizens, showed interest. In a quick survey of six Brussels hotels, only the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel - which said they have no special rooms for Muslims, but that they always meet their customer's specific needs - showed any interest, but added that religious tourism is not their main business. Other chains preferred not to comment. Bruno Bernard prefers to speak of 'cultural tourism and business'.

This is not BECI's first step in the halal market. Bruno Bernard says it's a great market niche, but one with very few players, and a recent study showed that 17% of Brussels residents eat halal. In March BECI launched a halal certificate for industrial products, and was roundly criticized for it, with some saying that they encouraged the creeping Islamization of society.

Olivier Willocx, BECI managing director, says the project was misunderstood. He's still surprised by the 'passionate outburst' prompted by the initiative. He clarifies that the certificate is meant for non-meat products for export, and not for the local market. They wanted to ensure transparency in this field. There are some 'certificators' who charge 20,000 euros to certificates that aren't recognized by everybody, and there's also fraud. Products are presented as halal without actually being halal.

BECI, who say they want to facilitate halal and not to certify it, charge every company that wants a halal certification for its product 1500 euro. A European certificate is recognized everywhere in the Muslim world. The charge is used to pay for the imam who comes specially from Algeria (a country which recognizes the link between church and State), and inspects the production site for three days before deciding whether to issue the certificate. Spot checks are also provided, and in case of fraud, the certificate is rescinded for five years, says Bruno Bernard.

BECI now gets an application for their new label every day, and they hope to get to 500 certificates a year. Still, companies are very discreet about being certified. The only companies to advertise their labels are Colona (sauces), Charlemagne (chocolate) and Night Orient (non-alcoholic festive drinks). Bruno Bernard points out that this certificate opens many doors, including those of the lucrative Middle East market.

Sources: GvA (Dutch), La Libre Belgique (French)