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Foreign Umrah pilgrims expected to cross 4 million mark

Source : P.K. Abdul Ghafour | Arab News
JEDDAH | 21 May 2011

The number of foreign pilgrims coming to the Kingdom for Umrah is increasing year after year and is expected to reach four million next year, said Haj Minister Fouad Al-Farsy on Saturday while meeting with Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal.

Al-Farsy said Prince Khaled, who is chairman of the Central Haj Committee, urged Haj-related institutions and top officials of Tawafa organizations who attended the meeting to provide the best possible services to pilgrims.

“The governor instructed us to exert maximum efforts in the service of the guests of God and work as one team to provide pilgrims with better services, realizing the hopes and aspirations of the Saudi leadership,” the minister said.

Prince Khaled also urged Al-Farsy and officials of Tawafa organizations, Zamzam office and United Agencies to make continuous efforts to improve their services to pilgrims, Al-Farsy said.

“The number of pilgrims coming for Umrah this year will be 700,000 more than last year’s figure,” the minister said. Makkah is already crowded with Umrah pilgrims from different parts of the world, especially Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

According to a report issued by NCB, the Kingdom's tourism industry earnings from international travelers would reach SR80 billion by 2015.

“The largest share of inbound tourism is religious tourism as people from across the world visit Makkah and Madinah to perform Haj and Umrah. During 2009, religious tourism trips accounted for 47.1 percent of all trips to the Kingdom,” the NCB report said.

The government's decision during 2009 to relax Umrah and Haj visas to cope with demand has allowed more visitors to perform religious rituals. In 2010, the Ministry of Haj increased the number of Ramadan visas for foreign pilgrims by 16 percent, reaching 911,000 visas against the planned 792,000.

A study by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities said the accommodation capacity of licensed hotels in Makkah and Madinah exceeded the number of Umrah visas issued so far. There are 75,000 rooms in Makkah that could accommodate more than one million pilgrims every month, while there are nearly 35,000 rooms in Madinah that could house 400,000 pilgrims.

Meanwhile, a number of foreign pilgrims have urged the Haj Ministry to improve the services at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah.

At present some Umrah company officials collect passports of pilgrims on arrival at the airport and ask pilgrims to follow them. This is a bad system and should be changed, they said.

Many pilgrims refuse to hand over their passports to such individuals fearing they would be lost. “Thousands are now arriving for Umrah, and it is high time the authorities introduced a better system to make pilgrims feel comfortable,” said a Canadian pilgrim.


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