Private and public ties ‘key to revive Umrah, Hajj sector’

Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Tawfiq al-Rabiah addressing the media in the capital Riyadh. (AFP file photo)
Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Tawfiq al-Rabiah addressing the media in the capital Riyadh. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 11 December 2021

Private and public ties ‘key to revive Umrah, Hajj sector’

Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Tawfiq al-Rabiah addressing the media in the capital Riyadh. (AFP file photo)
  • Investors discuss unified approach as Saudi Arabia plots recovery from pandemic losses

MAKKAH: Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah has called for greater cooperation between private and public sectors in order to expand services to pilgrims visiting Islam’s two holy sites, Makkah and Madinah.

The minister met with investors at the Makkah Chamber of Commerce last week and stressed the importance of cooperation between the sectors as the Kingdom works to recover from the economic effects of the global pandemic.

Ahmed Bajaiffer, an investor in Umrah companies, told Arab News that in the context of expanding cooperation between the private and public sectors, it is possible to allocate supervisory tasks that were entrusted to the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah to private sector firms.

These include airport reception firms, surveillance companies, firms monitoring offenses and imposing fines, and ground handling companies.

One idea under discussion is to establish a Hajj and Umrah Development Fund that is sovereign and affiliated with the state, Bajaiffer said.

“The fund will support the private sector’s initiatives in exchange for investment partnerships that manage all the sector’s details,” he said.

Bajaiffer said that efforts are underway “to make Umrah an exceptional experience that enriches the pilgrims’ time visiting the sites.”

Companies can compete to provide better services interrupted by the expansion of the Grand Mosque and the pandemic.

“There is more leeway now for ideas and innovation to provide better services, based on a sector that is completely nationalized.”

Bajaiffer said that the Hajj and Umrah sector, including sustenance, supply and transport, was directly affected by the pandemic.

The next phase requires the implementation of initiatives to restore the dynamism of the sector, he said, adding that “the stronger the industries in the Hajj and Umrah system are, the more positive the outcome.”

As an ecosystem, we need to identify where all the breaches of confidence remain and how to restore confidence, attract new investors into operating core services or provide bailout packages so the worst-affected sectors can restart.

Mohsin Tuttla, Head of World Hajj and Umrah Convention

Head of World Hajj and Umrah Convention Mohsin Tuttla told Arab News: “Before COVID-19, we were witnessing a perpetual compound 10 percent annual growth in pilgrim numbers; with recorded figures estimated around 18 million Umrah pilgrimages in 2019, successfully growing in line with the Vision 2030 outlined forecasted figures.”

He added: “The decimation of pilgrimage numbers imposed by COVID-19 and its variants has crippled the underpinning ecosystem that has been supporting the smooth operation of the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages.”

Tuttla said that the mandate of Vision 2030 for Hajj and Umrah performance is often misunderstood, citing tax revenues as being the primary focus.

“Nothing could be further from the truth; the objective is to ensure that the Hajj and Umrah ecosystem is self-sustainable with a reduced dependency on financial subsidy provided by declining oil revenues. It is about creating a model where experience expectation of the pilgrimage remains in line with pilgrim expectation and supported by its own performance as a sector.”

Factors stifling the industry include chain debts; uncertainty in creating and delivering package commitments; a breach of confidence across the Hajj and Umrah ecosystem; loss of experienced talent, and Hajj and Umrah professionals; and the lack of guaranteed mechanism to facilitate pilgrimage travel into Saudi Arabia safely and back.

“Having identified core challenges restricting a bounce back by the private sector, we can begin to devise practical strategies to help rejuvenate the Hajj and Umrah sectors,” said Tuttla.

“As an ecosystem, we need to identify where all the breaches of confidence remain and how to restore confidence, attract new investors into operating core services or provide bailout packages so the worst-affected sectors can restart.”

Addressing the loss of talent, Tuttla said that the industry needs educational institutes to provide courses and induction sessions to help qualify and train new staff.

He added that risk must be shared and leniency shown, reducing penalties or fines on companies that have not fulfilled their obligations due to occurrences beyond their control.

Most importantly, health risks must be minimized and mechanisms developed to guarantee the safe travel of pilgrims from their homes and back again.

Head of the National Hajj and Umrah Committee, Mazen Darrar, said that the private sector can help provide services for all pilgrims, ensuring that “services are provided in a professional and distinguished manner that reflects the efforts made by the Kingdom and the honorable image in serving the pilgrims.”

He added: “Vision 2030 aims to increase the number of pilgrims and visitors through many measures, perhaps the most prominent of which is to attract investors to this sector by facilitating and unifying work mechanisms in coordination with various authorities and providing guarantees that contribute to the sustainability of their work.”

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HAIL: The Beit Hail 15-day festival was launched on Wednesday showcasing local heritage including incense burners, daggers, wicker baskets, and clothes with ancient Thamudic and Sadu embroidery.

Dep. Gov. of Hail Prince Faisal bin Fahd inaugurated the event at Aja Park with the undersecretary of the region, Adel bin Saleh Al-Sheikh, and other officials.

Prince Faisal toured the site and visited the exhibition of the late artist Youssef Al-Shagdali.

The festival also features classic cars and popular, colorful handicrafts created by the region’s artisans.

There were also stalls that showed how cloth is woven and transformed into clothing.

Visitors were entertained by a folklore troupe performing the Saudi Arda.

The event aims to support local talent and boost small businesses.

 

 


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JEDDAH: The architecture of the futuristic city, The Line, has impressed Makkah Gov. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, who says he will be the first to book an accommodation once it is complete.

Prince Khalid made the remarks in a tweet following his visit to the NEOM exhibition to see the designs on Wednesday at the Jeddah Superdome.

The governor toured the exhibition that showcases the architectural innovations of the city.

He was also briefed on how the city would help alleviate the critical environmental challenges facing humanity.

Last month, The Line’s designs were revealed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

They showed the most important features of The Line, which is 200 meters wide, 170 kilometers long, and 500 meters high. It will eventually house 9 million people and have a 34 square kilometer footprint.

It will take up less land than other cities of comparable capacity and help to conserve 95 percent of NEOM’s land.

The Line imagines a future without streets, cars or emissions. It will be powered entirely by renewable energy and prioritize health and well-being over transportation and infrastructure.

The exhibition showcases all these aspects of the city. It opened on Aug. 1 and will be taken to other locations from Aug. 14, including Riyadh and the Eastern Province.

It offers 50 guided tours a day in Arabic and English.


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RIYADH: Kyoto-based Okamoto Orimono Co., Ltd. (branded as Nishijin Okamoto) has worked to provide rare silk fabrics since the Meiji era, and have carried on the techniques and traditions of Nishijin textiles for over 100 years, across four generations.

Nishijin Okamoto is one of the few remaining weaving companies carrying on the historic culture of Nishijin and Kyoto, and the company is offering innovative silk fabrics that will impress the wearer.

Ema Okamoto, textile designer and managing director of Nishijin Okamoto, spoke to Arab News Japan, saying, “I grew up as a child amid the sounds of the machines, the winding threads, and the bustle of the craftsmen in the house and workshop. This atmosphere of the Nishijin workshop is my origin and my life.”

“The people of Saudi Arabia, like us, cherish their roots and as they live their lives. I got a lot of inspi- ration from the regional symbols they showed us wherever we went,” Okamoto said, expressing interest in creating “a traditional collaboration between Saudi Arabia and Japan.”


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RIYADH: Denmark’s ambassador in Saudi Arabia, Ole Emil Moesby, will bid the Kingdom farewell at the end of his tour of duty in Riyadh later this month.

“From the bottom of my heart, I want to say thank you,” he told Arab News. “I’ve had a fantastic time here — you usually get more or less emotional when you have to change, but if you are a diplomat, you’re quite used to it changing from one place to the other.

“I can’t think of any time when I felt this — that I am leaving something behind here — which I will miss because the way I’ve been treated and inspired, and the way I’ve been communicating with people, has been extraordinary,” Moesby said.

“The experience I have had has been fantastic, so my message is: Thank you.”

Ambassador Ole Emil Moesby paying a courtesy call to King Salman. (Supplied)

Moesby has been the ambassador of Denmark to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Yemen since Sept. 5, 2017, and his final day of service is Aug. 31.

Talking to Arab News, Moesby highlighted some of his fondest memories in the Kingdom, where he has spent five years, from interacting with the local community and traveling, to being enriched by the culture and heritage of Saudi Arabia.

“It’s been a fantastic time to experience the development and the changes which I have seen in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

“AlUla of course has developed extremely (well) … But even places like Yanbu or Jeddah have actually changed a lot. Not to mention, of course, Riyadh.

Balancing on the "Edge of the World", the Jebel Fihrayn which features 300-meter-high cliffs. It is part of Riyadh's Tuwaiq escarpment. (Supplied)

“It’s actually been interesting to see also how the development has changed attitudes and culture in these places, but yet, at the other side, have actually maintained the heritage of these places,” Moesby explained.

The ambassador witnessed many changes, including the opening of movie theaters in the Kingdom and the lifting of the ban on women driving in 2018.

“I think it’s been fantastic to see that development,” said the envoy. “I have been (here) in a period where I have been for premiers of films in the cinemas, and before … my staff here, which is mainly women, were actually being brought to the embassy in the morning — now they actually drive themselves,” he added.

“So instead of having a problem of traffic, as we had before, we now have a parking problem,” the ambassador joked.

“That’s a fantastic development, and which I will take with me in my memories when I leave.”

The ambassador had also been to Ithra, Ithra, the iconic King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Dhahran, which was built by Saudi Aramco. (Supplied)

Moebsy explained that he has also been a dedicated Arab News reader, making sure to pick up the newspaper every morning to catch up on events.

“Everything has actually changed since Sept. 5, 2017. So every day, Arab News has actually told me what is happening here. And it’s been a fantastic experience because of the changes that you have seen here,” he said.

The ambassador highlighted the ways his mission has strengthened bilateral relations between Denmark and Saudi Arabia through embassy-led initiatives and collaborations.

“As an ambassador, you have to understand what is happening in Saudi Arabia, and you have to convey that to people in Denmark, and you have to make people in Saudi Arabia understand what the thinking is in Denmark. That’s the way to develop a bilateral relationship,” he said.

Most of his efforts have been to put into trade, developing business partnerships, and promoting cultural exchanges.

One of these efforts was hosting a women’s football tournament in Saudi Arabia with 28 teams from all over the Kingdom, called the Global Goals World Cup.

“We’ve been very active in setting up football for females. The tournament that we had was a big success … because it also demonstrated the role that females can play in sports events,” he said.

In February, the embassy hosted celebrations of the Golden Jubilee of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, and the ambassador invited young female Saudi artists to paint a picture of the queen to mark the event.

“It’s an amazing development of cultural abilities and possibilities in Saudi Arabia that can happen. And for the queen in Denmark, she would see that as a good signal of the long-term good relations that we have between Saudi Arabia and Denmark,” Moesby said.

Ambassador Ole Emil Moesby has visited the ancient city of Al-'Ula, an archaeological wonder located in the northwestern region of Madinah. (Supplied)

He concluded his interview by leaving a message to his successor, Liselotte Kjaersgaard Plesner, who will be the next ambassador.

“My successor, she is one of our top diplomats in the Danish service,” Moesby said.

“I just hope she can just be half as happy as I am in being here, (then) I will be more than happy.

“An important message to say to her is that the perceptions that we sometimes all are under in Europe or Denmark, and in the US, you can’t get close to the reality unless you have seen it yourself,” he said.

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“You have to come here. You have to live here. You have to understand and communicate with people here, otherwise, it won’t happen,” he said.

 


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Visitors will be able to view the history and work of the King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an in Madinah on a special screen. 

A display of manuscripts is among the major features of the exhibition, which will be open both morning and evening.

The exhibition will also highlight the ministry’s digital applications and programs.