Lotte to open prayer room for Muslims in Jamsil shop

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Lotte to open prayer room for Muslims in Jamsil shop

Lotte Department Store will open a Muslim prayer room this week at its Jamsil location in southern Seoul, the company said Sunday, as it ramps up efforts to attract affluent shoppers from the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

The prayer room measures 49.6 square meters (533.9 square feet) and is divided into two spaces by gender as per Muslim rules. Each space has a Quran, prayer mat, foot baths and a mihrab, which helps locate the direction of Mecca.

Lotte is the first retailer in Korea to build a prayer room specifically for Muslim visitors. It received assistance from the Korea Muslim Federation.

The prayer room is just the beginning of Lotte’s effort to attract Muslim shoppers. At its department stores in Sogong-dong, central Seoul, and Jamsil, the retailer plans to designate some of the restaurants inside as “Muslim-friendly.” It will also distribute a free guidebook highlighting some 30 prayer rooms and halal restaurants located at major tourist attractions and international airports.

“As Muslim tourists increasingly visit our department stores, we have come up with promotions and facilities that can help facilitate their stay in Korea,” said Kim Dae-soo, head of marketing at Lotte Department Store.

Retailers see Muslims as a major alternative to what has traditionally been the major source of tourism for Korea: China. The industry suffered an enormous decline in sales after the Chinese government banned travel agencies from organizing group tours to Korea in the wake of a geopolitical dispute with Seoul over a U.S. missile defense system installed on Korean soil.

As a result, retailers are turning to Muslim tourists for a potential windfall. There are an estimated 1.7 billion Muslims around the world, and according to the Korea Tourism Organization, around 980,000 Muslims traveled to Korea last year, up 33 percent from 2015. The organization expects 1.2 million Muslim tourists this year.

In the first half of 2017, revenue from Muslim shoppers at Lotte Department Store accounted for 12.5 percent of the entire pie, up 10 percentage points from the same time span a year earlier.

Hotels, too, are now scrambling to put halal-certified food in their restaurants. Lotte Hotel and the Plaza Hotel, both in central Seoul, have obtained “Muslim-friendly” certifications for all of the restaurants they run.

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