Hajj and Umrah investments — meeting the challenge
Last week, I signed up with a Hajj organizer to perform my first mission to fulfill the fifth pillar of the Islamic faith. Although I had the opportunity to join my family on pilgrimage several times during my childhood, this time around will be my first real experience.
Saudi Arabia has assumed a prominent place in the world, and has become synonymous with hospitality and a warm welcome to all Muslims. As such, it has carved a special place in the hearts of pilgrims and the faithful everywhere.
To date, more than 1.5 million pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia from abroad through air, land and seaports to perform Hajj rituals. The number of pilgrims arriving by air stood at 1.4 million, by land 86,359 pilgrims and by the sea 16,848 pilgrims.
The government has been performing a third expansion to the Two Holy Mosques, as well as modernizing and increasing the capacities of the country’s airports. The Makkah Metro project has been launched to complement the railroad projects that will serve visitors to the Holy Mosques and other sites. The network of the transport system has been reinforced to facilitate access and help pilgrims perform their visits with greater ease and convenience.
Many private sectors will surely benefit from these expansions. During last year’s Hajj season, hotel occupancy in Makkah hovered around 90 percent, compared to around 60 percent for the whole of Saudi Arabia.
While the hospitality sector is an obvious beneficiary, other sectors are likely to gain from the upsurge in pilgrims including construction companies, travel agencies, catering companies, telecom operators and fast-moving consumer goods companies.
The sector is set to pick up pace as the Kingdom undertakes at least $50 billion worth of projects aimed at boosting the number of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims over the next two years. Under the country’s transformation program, the number of Hajj pilgrims is expected to reach 2.5 million by 2020.
I believe it is quite clear that the continual development of Hajj and Umrah organizations and services in the Kingdom is among the top priorities of the Saudi government. The Kingdom’s economic blueprint for 2030 includes plans to further improve the quality of services offered to visitors embarking on Hajj and Umrah, including boosting capacity to accommodate up to 30 million pilgrims per year. This challenging target will require both public and private sectors to facilitate and implement investments in different sectors, including construction, transportation, information technology, accommodation and catering worth over $50 billion.
Soon, I will be starting my spiritual journey, and will be able to experience firsthand the different facilities provided by the public and private sectors. Most likely, I will be expressing my thoughts in the third part of my Hajj and Umrah series. Until then, and since I will be on pilgrimage next week, I wish you all a happy Eid Al-Adha.
Basil M.K. Al-Ghalayini is the Chairman and CEO of BMG Financial Group.