Each year, the Islamic Holy Month of Ramadan sees millions of Muslims fast during daylight hours for an entire month. Running from May 5th through to June 4th this year, Ramadan is a time of religious devotion and reflection. It is a time to spend quality time with loved ones.
The month of Ramadan also marks a change in atmosphere – especially within Middle Eastern metropolises. Dubai, where Mojo PR is headquartered, a city usually characterised by its fast-paced, always-on nature, shifts towards a quieter, more peaceful and reflective energy. It can be quite a culture shock for those who’ve never visited the Middle East before or have only done so during non-fasting periods, as well as for the brands occupying the market.
So, below we’ve broken down what consumers and brands can expect during Ramadan – from food and drink to life online.
Food & Drink
Ramadan requires Muslims to fast from sunrise to sunset and whilst non-Muslims are not required to partake, they must respect those who are. Both visitors to the Middle East and the expats who account for more than 80% of the UAE’s population cannot eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours.
Surprisingly most hospitality venues can remain open during Ramadan, though many restaurants and cafes choose to operate reduced opening hours. As with the consumers that visit them, any eateries that do remain open during daylight hours should respect those fasting. Curtains should be put up to hide those eating or drinking indoors; and dining outside, even if the sun is shining, is a definite miss. Though, with temperatures heating up ahead of the Middle Eastern summer, you’ll likely want to be near air conditioning anyway!
At Sunset – Maghrib – the city comes alive with Iftar (evening meal) and Suhoor (last meal before sunrise) offerings. Ramadan tents and majlises like the Asateer Tent at Atlantis the Palm or Al Majlis at Madinat Jumeirah, offer the authentic Arabian Iftar experience with communal style dining & expansive Arabic buffets available.
On the less traditional side, food delivery apps including Deliveroo and Careem NOW operate extended hours to accommodate for those fasting, and entice millennials with daily Ramadan specials.
With dining at the centre of Ramadan celebrations, it’s no surprise that brands within the hospitality sector make the most of this increased demand.
As with all aspects of life, Ramadan brings a great change to the Middle Eastern office environment. Under UAE labour laws, all businesses must reduce working hours by a minimum of 2 hours a day with most companies in the public sector following a working pattern of 9am – 3pm during the month of fast, giving families more time to come together in devotion.
This applies to both Muslims and expats alike – so brands should be aware that whilst consumers may have more time to shop, there may not be the retail staff to serve them. This applies to all functions within retail from PR & marketing, to new business and sales – not just the shop floor. Here at Mojo, staff who are fasting can choose to work flexibly from either 9am – 3pm or 10am – 4pm, with the same choice of hours on offer to non-Muslims.
The Rise of e-Commerce
UAE residents are known to be amongst the most active social media and mobile phone users in the world, and during Ramadan, time spent online only increases. So, whilst consumers might not be on the shop floor the opportunity for brands to target and better engage audiences increases. Previously the decline in bricks and mortar footfall during daylight hours contributed to a pause in sales throughout Ramadan, however the rise of e-commerce, means the impact on sales is lessening year on year.
With more time spent online, consumers look more actively for Ramadan deals and offers, and most brands have begun to tap into this. This year Namshi, the largest online shopping platform in the UAE, launched a campaign for Ramadan called ‘Suhoor Surprises’, creating a 24hr only, new deal every evening. But not all brands see this as merely a money-making opportunity, Ounass – the luxury e-commerce site – launched a social responsibility campaign where on checkout, consumers are encouraged to donate to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
And, brands aren’t only reaching consumers via targeted content and deals. In Apple’s case, the new Shot on iPhone ‘Finding Balance’ campaign is encouraging Muslims to get creative with the iPhone X and capture their experiences of Ramadan, as well as highlighting IOS features that reflect this contemplative time of fast such as Do Not Disturb and the Health app.
Ramadan in the Middle East is truly a unique cultural experience to be embraced, and while from the outside the slower pace of public life might suggest that brands and consumers alike ‘take a month off’, the reality is anything but. This religious period not only celebrates the traditional festivities at the heart of the Middle East, but offers brands an opportunity to engage with their audiences in a different manner.
Ramadan Mubarak – Have a Blessed Ramadan
By Nicole Greeff, Account Manager at Mojo PR