Published on : Tuesday, September 5, 2017
Both Hilton and Marriott have $3.2 billion Jabal Omar complex in the pipeline here that is being built to bring hotels, restaurants and luxury malls to the pilgrimage experience.
Pilgrimage is main component of the plan to expand tourism under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s economic reform program, announced a year ago to diversify the economy away from oil. The haj, a journey every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it must perform once in a lifetime, is a profound experience for those who undertake it. It is also big business for Saudi Arabia. The haj and the year-round lesser pilgrimage, umrah, generate $12 billion in revenues from worshippers’ lodging, transport, gifts, food and fees.
However, pilgrimage visas currently restrict travel outside the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Authorities plan to relax the restrictions, but have not specified to what extent and have raised the visa cost for return pilgrims to more than $500.
Most of the kingdom’s tourism development plan so far targets the affluent visitors, while the biggest and fastest-growing pilgrim populations come from modest means. The Saudi tourism commission has pledged to rehabilitate four sites in Mecca: Jabal al-Nour, Jabal Thawr, Hudaybiyyah and Mohammed’s migration path from Mecca to Medina. But there is hardly any sign of restoration in Mecca so far, said Irfan Alawi, founder of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation.
Officials aim to increase the number of umrah and haj pilgrims to 15 million and 5 million respectively by 2020, and hope to double the umrah number again to 30 million by 2030. In addition, they hope that pilgrims will be attracted to spend money at museums, luxury resorts and historical sites.
Out of many projects to lure travelers, the Red Sea Project hopes to attract luxury travellers to island resorts and pre-Islamic ruins in a closed visa-free zone.
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