Domestic Haj service providers want govt help to reduce losses



JEDDAH: P.K. ABDUL GHAFOUR & IBRAHIM NAFFEE

Published — Tuesday 10 September 2013

Last update 13 September 2013 4:16 pm

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Domestic pilgrim service providers have urged the Haj Ministry to take immediate steps to reduce the huge losses being suffered by them as a result of the ministry’s decision to reduce the number of domestic pilgrims by 50 percent this year.
They said about 23,000 employees, including Saudis, are likely to lose their jobs as a result of the decision. “Of course, we agree that public interest should be given priority to private interest. At the same time the ministry should not turn a deaf ear to our plight. Our losses have reached SR2 billion this year,” the owner of a Haj service company said.
Badr Jameel Al-Qurashi, an investor in the sector, said the ministry had reduced the number of domestic pilgrims by 66 percent instead of 50 percent, further hiking losses of some 206 Haj firms.
“This will force these companies to get rid of nearly 23,000 employees,” he pointed out.
Ahmed bin Humaid Al-Reeshi, whose company offers low-cost Haj services, said the number of companies providing Haj services at low cost has declined by 80 percent this year because the ministry was not providing any incentives for them. These companies charge service fees ranging between SR1,900 and SR3,900.
Mohammed Ahmed Badi, another investor, said about 60 companies have signed an agreement with the ministry pledging not to increase charges this year. They offer prices ranging between SR3,000 and SR10,000 per pilgrim. However, he pointed out that the ministry’s stance toward these firms was not encouraging.
Nasser Abdullah Al-Ahmary said Haj firms suffer losses worth SR40 million every year for arranging their tents. He urged the ministry to allocate tents to companies for three to five years to avoid these losses.
However, it's not all doom and gloom. Saad Al-Quraishi, chairman of the National Committee for Haj and Umrah at the Makkah Chamber for Commerce and Industry, said: “There are more than 1,000 jobs for women and 1,500 for men. Every year, the Haj season provides job opportunities for Saudis in many areas to serve pilgrims. However, the government decision to reduce the number of pilgrims this year can be expected to affect the number of job opportunities on the market.”
Public and private business establishments covering the health, security, transportation, translations and IT domains hire Saudi men and women to serve pilgrims during the Haj season. Besides these core areas, several enterprising Saudis and expats also set up small businesses, providing food, beverages, transport and gift articles for pilgrims, which are profit-making ventures during the season.
The railway project in the holy cities could also provide more job opportunities for Saudis. There are 20 trains, each 300 meters in length with a capacity of 3,500 pilgrims per trip. The trains will transport about 72,000 pilgrims. Trains can transport 500,000 pilgrims from Makkah to Mina and from Mina to Arafat. In addition, this sector provides around 4,000 job opportunities for Saudis to work as security guards and administrators.
“The railway project in the holy cities will provide 2,000 jobs for Saudis. However, the transportation sector allows a flow of pilgrims only within the holy sites. Many Saudis prefer to offer transportation services within their own business,” Al-Quraishi told Arab News.

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