JEDDAH: An app introducing pilgrims to landmarks at the holy sites on Wednesday night won a Hajj and Umrah Challenge, which was launched earlier this week to bring creativity and technology to the pilgrim experience.
The challenge was part of an international Hajj and Umrah conference and exhibition called “Transformation Toward Innovation” that was held in Jeddah and organized by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, in collaboration with the Doyof Al-Rahman (Guests of Allah) Program.
The competition’s results were announced by Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, minister of Hajj and Umrah, on the first day of the conference.
Saudi entrepreneurs were asked to come up with creative solutions in three days across six areas to create a better pilgrimage experience: Crowd and waste management, transportation, catering, health, and housing.
More than 1,500 people registered for the challenge. A ministerial jury whittled down the number of entries from 40 to 13, with 10 ideas passing through to the final stage, and there was SR150,000 ($40,000) prize money on offer.
There were three winners of the challenge, and the top 10 participants were honored. The top three projects won SR50,000, SR30,000, and SR20,000.
The winning app came from Maalem Team, with maalem meaning landmark. It introduces pilgrims to landmarks in the holy sites. People get a notification as they pass one by and receive audio commentary on it.
Maalem Team leader Affaf Al-Hajjaji, quality control manager at Makkah Technical College, said: “Big thanks to the team that worked with me remotely for the past three days. They proved that as long as there is a desire to work, nothing can stop you.”
Dr. Abdulfattah Mashat, deputy minister of Hajj and Umrah, said the ministry would adopt the first five winning ideas and involve them in business accelerators to transform the projects into reality.
The second-place project focused on serving pilgrims with disabilities, and the third-place project focused on water distribution.
The third day of the conference also had three talks.
One was about the financing needs of businesses operating in the Hajj and Umrah sector. The second was about innovation management in Hajj and Umrah, and the third was about intelligent transport for pilgrims.
They were presented by experts and academics from the Hajj and Umrah sector.
There was also a special session focusing on the bodies serving domestic pilgrims. This session was presented by Dr. Saed Al-Jehani, chairman of the Coordinating Council of Domestic Pilgrims Institutions and Companies.
The council’s mission is to coordinate the efforts of institutions and companies for the domestic pilgrim market. Al-Jehani said the council comprised 185 companies working on generating more creative solutions for the Hajj and Umrah experience.
“We aspire to a better reality, and we must expect the future of Hajj and Umrah to be full of innovative solutions,” he told the conference. “At the council, we will take care of providing innovative solutions in the coming Hajj seasons and we will focus on areas such as housing, transportation, catering, knowledge content, administrative and health affairs, and services.”
The accompanying exhibition saw the participation of government and private sector bodies showcasing products, programs, and projects designed to give pilgrims a better experience.
The booth from the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques was among the most interesting as it offered people the chance to experience an immersive VR visit to the Kaaba and the Black Stone.
A VR headset enabled people to see the Kaaba, hear the adhan (call to prayer), and even smell the essence of the Grand Mosque in Makkah.