Mecca, Asharq Al-Awsat – Hajj and Umrah travel agencies have revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that over 3 million pilgrims are expected to visit Mecca during the month of Ramadan.
These figures include 1,500,000 local pilgrims and 1,000,600 traveling from abroad who together are expected to bring in revenue worth US $160 million to Umrah travel agencies.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Chairman of the National Committee for Hajj, Umrah and Tourism at the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce, Saad Bin Jamil al Qureishi said that they were expecting the number of pilgrims to exceed 3 million.
“The anticipated rise in the number of pilgrims this year is estimated to be 800,000 pilgrims from abroad, and approximately 300,000 locals,” he said. Furthermore, he confirmed that the total sum of revenue expected is US $160 million.
He revealed that the average expenditure of a pilgrim coming from abroad is approximately US $1,000, which is divided between housing in Mecca and Medina and a sum of US $200-300 spent on presents and purchases. He added that the average expenditure of a local pilgrim ranges between US $400-550, which rises to approximately US $800 towards the end of the holy month.
Al Qureishi said that they expected the number of bookings to increase by 18 percent compared to last year’s figures, while hotel bookings have increased by 85-95 percent.
Nasser Bin Saad al Kari, the director of Rawdat al Saleheen Group for Religious Tourism confirmed that the volume of investments contributed by the Hajj and Umrah agencies in Saudi Arabia exceeds 3 billion Saudi Riyals (SAR) annually.
He explained that the average cost of a Umrah trip from within Saudi varies in price during weekdays. The average cost starts at SAR 250 at the beginning of the week and could increase to SAR 350, especially over the weekends (Thursday and Friday) because the hotels rates increase during these times. These figures are inclusive of round-trip tickets, hotel accommodation and breakfast.
The Ramadan season sees the most investment activity in the Hajj and Umrah travel agencies. Over the past 10 years, Saudi has witnessed a boom in the Hajj and Umrah service offices following the Saudi government’s launch of campaigns in which companies and personnel received licensing that was authorized by the Ministry of Hajj to offer services to the pilgrims. Services include transportation from Mecca to Medina running throughout the Hajj and Umrah seasons.
Al Kari emphasized that this past month of Shaaban, which is almost over, has witnessed a significantly less number of pilgrims compared to Ramadan. Umrah agencies get flooded with requests in the high season and many seek alternate modes of transportation to reach Mecca so as to ensure securing a place during the busy month.
Al Kari added that the Ministry of Hajj has adopted resolutions with the aim of clamping down on unlicensed Umrah agencies and diverting their work to the companies licensed by the ministry. This is mainly due to the increase of the number of pilgrims and the huge volume of complaints received by the Umrah travel agencies.
Deputy Director of the Lewa al Kheir Umrah travel agency, Abdul Wahid Abdullah pointed out that Umrah agencies face challenges concerning the steep cost of operations. The cost of renting a bus can reach up to SAR 3,500, except during the Hajj period in which the number of pilgrims sharply increases, as do the prices.
Abdullah added that the owners of the local bus companies do not deal with the Umrah travel agencies due to the high prices they quote, and also so they can remain in the competition with other transportation companies.
With Ramadan fast approaching, HRH Prince Khaled al Faisal, the governor of Mecca, has directed all governmental sectors to prepare for the upcoming holy month. Services and facilitations will be available for pilgrims as part of a government scheme that aims at meeting the anticipated rise in the number of pilgrims during this year.
Secretary-General of the Central Hajj Committee, Mohammed al Shafei told Asharq Al-Awsat that the governor of Mecca, who is also the chairman of the Central Hajj Committee has issued directives to the committee to resume their meetings during this coming time with the aim of identifying the problems, proposing plans and seeing them through to implementation.
The plans primarily focus on pilgrims’ services. Al Shafei added that the joint field committee has started assuming its field tasks in the central region surrounding the Mecca Holy Mosque since Friday 7 of September.