Umrah operators to lose $1.3bn from 14-day visa limit
Hotels, Umrah operators and aviation firms will incur SR 5 billion in losses due to the Haj Ministry’s recent decision to limit the validity of Umrah visas to 14 days, according to the estimates of the National Committee for Haj and Umrah (NCHU).
The ministry has decided to reduce the number of Umrah performers coming from outside the Kingdom during the holy month of Ramadan and allowed 14 days for pilgrims to leave the Kingdom after performing Umrah rituals. The decision was attributed to the expansion project being implemented in the Grand Mosque in Makkah.
“The loss of Umrah firms and institutions will be colossal during the upcoming season as the decision of the Ministry of Haj came late, notably after the Umrah firms had entered into contracts and obligations with Umrah agents outside the Kingdom,” deputy president of NCHU Abdullah Qadi told local media.
Qadi urged high-ranking officials to reconsider the decision in light of the losses to be incurred and said a reduction in the number of foreign Umrah pilgrims is not a solution to the problems posed by the expansion of the Grand Mosque in Makkah.
He said it was difficult to assess total losses arising from the decision as it caused wide ranging disturbances in airline bookings, the hotel sector and Umrah operators and other service sectors, such as the transportation sector.
He said the new procedure adopted by the Ministry of Haj during the upcoming month of Ramadan is based on grouping Umrah performers into two groups to ensure pilgrims do not exceed the permitted 14 days in the Kingdom.
To address the problem, the NCHU has submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Haj with suggestions on how to organize Umrah pilgrims, restricting worshippers from entering the circumambulation area (mataf) to ease congestion inside the Grand Mosque and facilitate the completion of Umrah rituals, he said.
The reduction in the number of Umrah pilgrims has also been followed by similar decision regarding the number of Haj pilgrims, as the expansion works for the Grand Mosque is set to take three years, which in turn will aggravate losses for Haj and Umrah service providers.
For his part, Walid Abu-Sabaa, head of the Hotels and Tourism Committee at the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI), termed the decision issued by the Ministry of Haj as “disastrous” for Umrah and pilgrimage service firms as they have to go back on their commitments made to foreign companies.
In another development, the Housing Committee for Pilgrims in Makkah has said that finding a sufficient number of houses to accommodate pilgrims during the upcoming Haj season will be a difficult task.
“The Pilgrims Accommodation Committee in Makkah requires 2,000 more houses to accommodate 1.6 million pilgrims. The committee has issued licenses for 4,000 houses so far,” Zuhair Haddad, chairman of the committee, said in a statement on Saturday.
Haddad said the committee was trying its best to find suitable houses for pilgrims in sufficient numbers.
He attributed the shortage of houses to the razing of a number of buildings to facilitate the expansion works in the Central Zone, developmental projects and construction projects in other parts of Makkah.
He hoped that the remaining 2,000 houses would be provided since Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal has extended the deadline for issuing licenses for pilgrim accommodation to Aug. 7.
Haddad said efforts are being made to contact Makkah residents to put up pilgrims in their private homes. In addition, only buildings that meet the Haj Ministry specifications will be issued a license to provide accommodation to pilgrims. House owners willing to sublet must submit applications for licenses before the end of Ramadan.
He asked residents to install safety systems and other necessities before the deadline for the issuance of licenses.
He said that the committee had disqualified 30 buildings that failed to fulfill the ministry’s specifications during the last Haj season.
He stressed the need to enforce strict regulations in houses where pilgrims are to be accommodated to ensure the safety and comfort of the guests of God.
He ruled out the possibility of anyone counterfeiting licenses for housing since issuance is linked to the governor’s office, the Ministry of Haj, the mayor’s office and the engineering offices. As such, any tampering with the documents would not go undetected at any one of these offices, he said.
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