Experts see 25% surge in Haj spending

JEDDAH: Foreigners coming to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage this year are expected to spend more than SR25 billion, 25 percent more than last year, experts said Thursday.

“This is mainly due to expected increase in the number of pilgrims, the rising costs of accommodation, the soaring prices of foodstuffs and the increase in the prices of air fare,” said Ali Hassan Nagoor, a member of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry who last year wrote a book on the pilgrimage economy, told Arab News.

“Many countries plan to compensate for the drop in their pilgrims caused by the strict measures adopted by the Kingdom last year because of swine flu.”
To prevent the spread of the disease, old men above 60, children under 12 and pregnant women were not allowed to do Haj last year.

Al-Nagoor said the spending of the pilgrims who came for Umrah this year went up by about 30 percent compared to the spending last year because of the rising cost of accommodation in all residential districts of Makkah, including the central area around the Grand Mosque that went up by about 25 percent over last year in addition to the increase of the prices of commodities and foodstuffs which was estimated to be more than 10 percent.

“The price of air tickets also went up, especially during the second half of Ramadan,” he added.

Al-Nagoor said the number of Umrah pilgrims this year increased by about half a million over the previous year reaching close to four million. He expected the number of Umrah pilgrims to reach five million a year in the next five years and called for making preparations for them including the building of more hotels and the provision of modern means of transport.

He referred to the problem of overcrowding of pilgrims at the airports this time of year and said their numbers increase just before Eid when Saudi vacationers also travel abroad.

Meanwhile, Shujaa Al-Zaidi, a hotel manager in Makkah, noted that while pilgrims from Europe, America, Canada and Australia were on the rise, the number of pilgrims from other countries, including Egypt and the neighboring GCC states, dropped due to the rising costs.

He expected the number of pilgrims coming for both Umrah and Haj to reach 10 million and said the new housing projects under construction in Makkah such as Jabal Omar and others will solve the problem of accommodation. – Arabnews