Umrah and Hajj: An unmatched spiritual journey into Vision 2030
As we enjoy the first days of Ramadan this year, performing Umrah at the holy Grand Mosque is becoming a dream for millions, especially after its closure last year as a precautionary measure due to the COVID-19 nationwide lockdown.
This year, the Saudi government managed, with a high degree of skill, to allow millions of worshipers and visitors to enjoy the spiritual intake of performing Umrah during Ramadan. Nearly 1.5 million people have passed through the gates of the Grand Mosque during the first 10 days of Ramadan. Entry is controlled through an app, through which pilgrims are allocated specific days and time slots. Visitors must be vaccinated, and masks are mandatory. To control such a health situation, the government has imposed penalties on those who violate these strict rules.
It is worth noting, especially with the live TV coverage, that the capacity of the Mataf courtyard where worshippers walk along paths circling the Kaaba, has been expanded while still allowing attendees to maintain distance from one another and reduce the chance of infection. This year, it is noticeable to witness the presence, for the first time in the two holy sites, of female military officials who have been deployed to provide security and support to female worshipers at the Grand Mosque during this Ramadan.
Since we are living an exceptional and temporary phase under this pandemic, I believe it is clear that the continual development of Hajj and Umrah organizations and services in the Kingdom is among the top priorities of the Saudi government. This challenging target will require both public and private sectors to implement investments in different sectors, including construction, transportation, information technology, accommodation and catering worth more than $50 billion.
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.
In my opinion, as a key economic driver and a major cornerstone of the non-oil sector, the continual development of Hajj and Umrah organizations and services in the Kingdom is unstoppable and is one of the top priorities of Vision 2030. The Kingdom’s economic blueprint includes plans to further improve the quality of services offered to visitors embarking on Hajj and Umrah, including boosting the capacity to potentially accommodate up to 30 million pilgrims each year by 2030.
• Basil M.K. Al-Ghalayini is the chairman and CEO of BMG Financial Group.