JEDDAH: The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah held an annual ceremony on Monday in Jeddah to celebrate the first group of graduates from the business accelerator program, which comes in partnership with the Saudi National Bank.
The program aims to enable entrepreneurial projects in the Hajj and Umrah sector and develop existing services and products to improve pilgrims’ experience, from transportation and accommodation to assistance for travelers who do not speak Arabic or who have special needs.
The ceremony was held under the theme, “Change, impact, and sustainability,” in line with the ministry’s efforts to promote a culture of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship and raise the level of competitiveness between Hajj and Umrah companies in providing services and products to pilgrims.
The ceremony showcased 20 startups and creative projects, offering investors the chance to review them.
Maryam Kutob, director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, told Arab News: “Today, we celebrate the graduation of the Hajj and Umrah business accelerator participants. Ten startups were incubated by the business accelerator in partnership with the Saudi National Bank.
“We are also celebrating another 10 creative projects from the Ambassadors of Creativity program that deal with challenges from the Hajj and Umrah sector.”
Kutob added that the program’s graduates developed several distinct products that can be implemented during this Hajj season.
The first-place winner of the Ambassador of Creativity program was the project Muyassar, which in Arabic means “in ease.”
Muyassar is a website that provides a virtual-reality, pre-Hajj experience, where pilgrims can enter the holy sites and visit their actual camp to check all the details in advance.
Shahd Nasreddin, a team member of the winning project, told Arab News: “Most of the pilgrims do not have an idea of ... (what) they will experience upon their arrival. Our project aims to prepare pilgrims mentally and physically by providing them with the correct image so their expectations meet reality.”
She added: “The trainers and lecturers provided by the ministry through the program helped us greatly to reflect our ideas well.”
A panel discussion was held to highlight the importance of facilitating Hajj and Umrah travels, especially for international pilgrims and those with special needs, and consolidating services.
The discussion featured four keynote speakers: Hajj and Umrah Minister Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah; Abdulrahman Tarabzouni, CEO of STV, the largest technology investment firm in the Middle East; Amr Al-Maddah, deputy minister of Hajj and Umrah services; and Bandar Al-Rayhan, assistant governor of the General Authority of Awqaf.
Regarding the role of creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation in improving the experience of pilgrims, which is one of the most important goals of Vision 2030, Al-Rabiah that the “private sector is an essential partner.”
There are several opportunities to improve upon the services offered to pilgrims and overcome challenges, Al-Rabiah said, citing electronic payment systems as an example: “Some pilgrims from around the world deal with special payment systems and do not use the credit cards we are familiar with. There is a huge opportunity to link the systems of payments in their country with the ones in the Kingdom, especially since the number of pilgrims is expected to increase dramatically in the coming years.
“We support creative ideas to provide the best services to the pilgrims,” he said.