A friend told me that the service counter of Rayani Air could still be seen at the Kuching International Airport recently.
This is despite the airline’s suspension by the Department of Civil Aviation after just over three months of service.
The airline had marketed itself as the first syariah-compliant airline in Malaysia. Many were eager to fly with the airlines.
However, they soon found that its customer service left much to be desired.
“It is like going to an expensive restaurant that promises halal food. Not only would we expect the food to be halal but the facilities and services provided to be top notch as well,” she said when comparing the promises made by Rayani Air versus what was actually delivered.
She said punctuality should be made a priority in the hospitality industry, what more in a service promising syariah-compliancy.
The acting CEO of TH Global & Services Sdn Bhd Adly Mohamed understood this rule very well, as the TH Hotel and Services Sdn Bhd chains also boast syariah-compliant services.
Many guests initially wondered what it actually meant for a hotel to be syariah-compliant.
“What I keep reiterating to TH hotel employees is that syariah-compliancy does not just cover the physical aspect of the business but the facilities and services provided to our guests as well.
“For instance, if I am at the hotel, I would ensure that I am in the kitchen before dawn to oversee the breakfast preparations, to ensure the staff are in top shape both physically and mentally and that the breakfast hall is ready by 6.30am,” he said.
Syariah-compliancy meant that all TH Hotels were always clean and comfortable, physical amenities in good condition and the customer service efficient.
“Serving only halal food and no alcoholic drinks are only the fundamental aspects of the syariah-compliancy advertised,” said Adly.
It was also not enough to have the staff dress modestly if they were not customer-friendly, failed to greet guests warmly or are late and inefficient in addressing the needs of guests.
He said to ensure top-notch and syariah-compliant services, TH Hotel regularly organised refresher courses and training for its staff, be they from the managerial or support level.
Does complying with the syariah law mean that TH Hotel held back on facilities, décor and design?
That apparently was not the case. The chain of hotels under TH Hotel & Services boast bold and vibrant choices in terms of colour, furniture and interior design, among others.
Stepping into any of the TH hotels would assure guests of the comforts within.
There are separate pools, sauna rooms and gymnasiums for male and female guests. Guests would be reminded of prayer times with the call of prayer at the hotel lobby and the staff are dressed modestly.
It is therefore little wonder that TH hotels receive many bookings online.
In fact, in 2014, Agoda.com awarded TH Hotel the number one four-star hotel of choice by online users.
“We will be selling the concept of this hotel in the main cities across Malaysia and add four more in Sepang, Kuching, Kota Baru and Johor Baru before moving on to main cities abroad,” he said.
TH Hotel currently owns five hotels.
Adly said TH Hotel addressed a void present in many conventional hotels of the yesteryears such as the absence of a proper ablution area, prayer mat, the Quran and a visible indicator of the kiblat (direction of the Kaabah).
Among the persons responsible for introducing the concept of syariah-compliant hotels in the country is the former managing director of the De Palma Hotel Group, Mohd Ilyas Zainol Abidin.
He believed that even non-Muslims have today become aware of the concept of halal and Muslim-friendly products and its marketability globally.
“In Malaysia, the awareness is more evident in not only the older generation but the much younger corporate players,” said, Mohd Ilyas, who is currently the managing director of Biztel Sdn Bhd.
He had spent over eight years making reforms and introducing new syariah-compliant concepts at the De Palma chain of hotels.
His work has motivated not only local hoteliers to move in a similar direction but also those from Thailand and Indonesia.
Mohd Ilyas, who has 40 years of experience in the hotel business, 20 of which was spent with the Hilton group, was very impressed by the move of hoteliers in Turkey who revamped the entire concept of their five-star hotels into a syariah-compliant one. He was also amazed at how readily the guests embraced the changes.
But what had prompted him to first make the move?
“I was inspired to do it after realising the public perception that hotel workers are not that attuned to religious needs. I wanted to correct that perception, particularly on women and those who worked shifts.
“Those who work in the hospitality business provide services for others. Why not multiply their good deeds by also allowing them to adhere to the needs of the religion?
“While working they can find peace knowing that they have time to pray, attend knowledge events organised by the hotel or outside parties at De Palma, and donate their money and energy through the various social responsibility programmes organised by the hotel in Ramadan.
“The response has been overwhelming. Now many more have started to pray at the surau and changed their lives to become closer to God,” he said.
As expected, great changes do not come without challenges.
At first, many of the hotel’s clients pulled out, especially those who wanted for alcohol to be served at their ceremonies in the hotel.
There were then whispers that De Palma’s move to become syariah-compliant had sealed its fate.
However, time proved the contrary. The hotel continued to prosper and its list of loyal clients and guests continued to climb.
The De Palma Hotel was also among the first to host the “tarawih” prayers and “qiamullail” at its surau throughout Ramadan. It even brought in renowned imams from several West Asian countries to lead the night prayers during the fasting months.
The surau in De Palma Ampang is also the only one allowed to host a congregation of nearly 2,000 during Friday prayers, every week.
Mohd Ilyas believed that for syariah-compliant hotels to continue to thrive, it should keep up with the times whether in the form of features and amenities provided by the hotel, its manpower or the physical façade of the building itself.
“De Palma and other syariah-compliant hotels (in Malaysia) must be competitive and meet the current needs of the guests,” he said.
The De Palma Ampang is currently in the process of renovation and upgrading to offer better syariah-compliant products to guests.
A hotel in Langkawi recently also moved towards syariah-compliancy, a sign of more to come.