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Why South Africa is laying a welcome mat for Muslim visitors

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNN) — With more than one million visitors in 2016, Cape Town already ranks highly among the most popular destinations in Africa.

But South Africa's legislative capital and its tourism industry is now targeting a new niche: Muslims.

Travel expenditure by Muslim travelers is expected to exceed $200 billion by 2020, according to a 2016 report by Mastercard, and there are high hopes that many can be attracted to the city of Table Mountain.

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"Traditionally, Cape Town was perceived as mainly a European city with a bit of Africanism to it," says Enver Duminy, CEO of Cape Town Tourism.

"We needed another narrative to meet the (Muslim) market's wants and needs, to make sure we deliver in a professional way but also a respectful way by firstly understanding the culture."

That includes adapting the city's leisure facilities to cater specifically to Muslim travelers. Major chains such as Hilton already offer bespoke Muslim-friendly rooms, complete with prayer mats and the Qur'an.

Even the bathrooms and kitchens are designed with Muslim travelers in mind.

"Everything prepared in this kitchen is no alcohol, no pork," says Tamarin Van Zyl, Executive Chef at the Hilton Cape Town City Centre.

"The entire kitchen at Hilton Cape Town City Centre is all halal. We don't serve wine."

The Muslim population in Cape Town is South Africa's largest, and its long history has given rise to visitor attractions.

These include the site of the first Muslim prayer congregation in South Africa, and the first mosque — Auwal Masjid — built in 1794.

Other hotels are moving to offer similar services but will need more training on providing Muslim-friendly services, says Fadi Awad who runs a travel agent catering to Muslim travelers.

Fadi Awad, MD of Roze Travel, told CNN: "They lack a bit of cultural and religious background but despite that I believe hotels are moving fast to try and learn to cope with and understand arrivals from such destinations."

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