A sense of excitement has swept over Saudi Arabia’s tourist industry with a new set of regulations scheduled to come into effect on July 1. These regulations will expand the travel options available to Muslim visitors making the Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca.
Each year, during a two-week period in the final month of the Islamic year, millions of Muslims arrive at the holy city to perform the hajj, which required from all capable members of the faith at least once during their lifetime. The Umrah is an optional “mini hajj,” undertaken by Muslims year round, whenever they enter Mecca.
Until today, Umrah pilgrims were only allowed to visit the cities of Mecca, Medina and Jeddah. However, under the new regulations, Muslim overnight transit passengers will be given extended visas that will also permit travel to all parts of the Kingdom. The move is designed to revive the Saudi tourism sector, although the right to provide services will be issued to authorized firms alone. Licenses for such tourist operations will be provided to agencies with a capital base of not less than SR500,000 and who submit to the Hajj Ministry a bank guarantee of SR200,000.
Little wonder then that the major travel operators are happiest about the new regulations. One of these is Kanoo Travel, which is today one of the largest agencies in the Gulf. "These new regulations are the future and we want to be a part of it," said Kazi Mohammad Ali, a regional travel manager of Kanoo Travel, "We have a special Umrah department that will be activated to take advantage of the opportunity".
The anticipated boost to be provided by Umrah travelers comes during a period of growth for Kanoo Travel. On April 9th the company announced its involvement in a joint venture, to result the setting up of a $22.4 million tourist resort in Manama, Bahrain. The project, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of next year, is the first of its kind by the Al Jazira Tourism Company, and it is headed by company chairman Abdulaziz Kanoo.
Currently operating 70 tourist agencies in the Gulf region, over a two-year period Kanoo group has seen its share of the Gulf tourism market more than quadruple, from 1% to 5%, and it is intent on doubling that figure again by 2005. According to Masha'al Kanoo, the group deputy president, the tourism market in the Gulf region is currently worth Dh 1.5 billion.
Kanoo Travel represents many of the world's leading airlines as their general sales agent, as well as a number of international hotel chains, American Express, and car rental companies. It was in this way that Kanoo established its presence in the Gulf, starting in the 1930s. "We were the first in the region to get membership of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in 1948. Similarly we became the first agent of British Airways," says Abdul Aziz Kanoo.
These days the Saudi Kanoos comprise one of the most successful business families in the Gulf region. Their commercial history dates back to the 1890’s when Yousuf bin Ahmad Kanoo started out dealing in provisions. Today, the management of the “Yousuf bin Ahmed Kanoo Group of Companies” is made up largely of third-generation family members, and family members also hold almost all the executive positions. According to Abdul Aziz Kanoo, the family at present numbers as many as 250 kinsmen.
The Kanoo group of companies encompasses a wide range of business activities. Beside travel, they operate also in the shipping, general holdings, aircraft services, public services and real estate sectors, and recently became involved in industry. The group has an extensive network of offices within Saudi Arabia and the other GCC states, and has a representative office in the United Kingdom, and associates in other countries.
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )