Some travel agents and advisors seem wary of letting clients holiday in North African countries during the fasting month of Ramadan, the ninth and holiest month in the Muslim calendar.
The exact dates of Ramadan change every year – this year it ran from September 13 to October 12. Throughout the world Muslims have been fasting during the hours of daylight and this week will celebrate the end of the fast with Eid-ul-Fitr, or the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast.
But should holidaymakers still travel to North Africa during Ramadan? Here are the arguments for and against.
Yes: Travel during Ramadan
Muslims regard the religious duty of Ramadan as an honour, and the purpose of the sunrise to sunset fast is to remain aware of the suffering of the poor, practice self-control and cleanse the body and mind.
There’s no law prohibiting non-Muslims from eating, drinking or smoking during the day and in tourist destinations the majority don’t mind if visitors do. On the other hand, they will respect you if you are courteous enough to refrain, at least in public.
Classic Collection head of product Gary Boyer said the month is a fascinating time and offers visitors a unique insight into a completely different culture.
“The atmosphere of Ramadan makes it a great time to visit Islamic countries,” he said. “The night-time celebrations, particularly during the last two weeks of the month, are particularly lively and colourful and offer a great contrast to the more solemn atmosphere during the day. There’s late-night shopping, festivities and a feeling of community.”
Tropical Locations group head of product David Kevan agreed, and recommended Marrakesh as a good starting point for clients travelling during Ramadan for the first time.
“Of all the countries in North Africa Morocco is probably the most open minded,” he said. “Marrakesh is an international city, so while Muslims adhere to Ramadan, most international travellers are able to eat and drink as normal. As always, visitors just need to be sensitive to local traditions and customs.”
The bonuses of travelling during Ramadan include operator discounts, such as seven nights for the price of five, quieter roads and special offers in restaurants.
No: Travel outside Ramadan
Agents need to warn potential clients that shops, bars, restaurants, tourist attractions and banks will often have shorter daytime opening hours during Ramadan and some may close altogether.
Also locals can be a bit irritable and short-tempered, particularly after the second week of the fast – well, imagine how you would feel. After sunset there can be a distinct lack of waiters in restaurants as they go off to enjoy their first meal of the day.
Peltours sales and marketing director Darren Panto said: “Travelling during Ramadan varies throughout North Africa. We always make people aware it is the holy month and, even if they are going to relaxed resorts, ask them to ensure they respect the local customs and do not sunbathe topless or act promiscuously.
“In Egyptian cities, such as Alexandria, it will be noticeably more stringent. Shops will close earlier and there is a general feeling of observance that is more obvious than in a Red Sea resort. Attractions will have shorter opening hours and itineraries need to vary to make the most of this situation.”
Clients travelling during Ramadan need to be prepared for disruption, said Explore product manager for North Africa Peter Eshelby.
“We advise clients there may be some limitations to services and disruptions to schedules during Ramadan. If clients are totally flexible when they travel it is probably best to avoid Ramadan. But of course the hours after sunset are a little more lively.”
Travel 2 product manager Jo Smethhurst said that clients should be informed that there is no live entertainment during Ramadan. “While music is played, you don’t see singers or belly dancers,” she said.
Travelling during Ramadan: Tropical Locations features four nights bed and breakfast at Dar Les Cigognes, a traditional riad property in Marrakesh, from £690 per person during Ramadan 2008. Situated in the heart of the historic medina, clients will be immersed in the atmosphere of the holy month. The price includes flights and transfers.
Travelling outside Ramadan:Kirker Holidays has three nights bed and breakfast at the five-star Residence in La Marsa, Tunisia, this November from £643 per person, including flights and transfers. The hotel has three restaurants; Li Bai, with a chef from Singapore, L’Olivier serving Mediterranean specialties and a stylish new Tunisian restaurant.
Choose Sharm el-Sheikh
If Ramadan is a convenient time to travel but your client is still a little unsure, suggest Egypt’s largest Red Sea resort, Sharm el-Sheikh.
Laid back, cosmopolitan and totally geared to tourists, it has a very different atmosphere to other parts of the country and visitors are unlikely to feel the effect of Ramadan.
Stay at an all-inclusive
For families with children, suggest an all-inclusive. Walking round trying to find a restaurant is the last thing you want if you’ve got hungry young mouths that need feeding.
Club Med is a family favourite and opened its first African resort in Agadir in 1966. Renovated in 2005, and with new baby Club Med facilities opened this year, the resort on the southern part of Morocco’s Atlantic coastline, now caters for youngsters from four months upwards and combines Moroccan traditions with modern living.
A seven night all-inclusive stay this November, including flights, starts from £555 per adult and £333 for four to11-year-olds, £151 for two and three-year-olds. Children under one go free.