MAKKAH – With millions of Muslims aspiring to perform umrah and hajj, Muslims’ most holy city of Makkah is restructuring to bring hotels, restaurants and luxury malls to the pilgrimage experience.
“All these hotels and buildings around the mosque will bring more business, God willing,” Awad al-Arshani, beckoning customers into his Dates of the Two Holy Mosques shop, told Reuters on Tuesday, September 5.
Considered a profound experience for Muslims who can afford it, hajj journey is becoming a big business for Saudi Arabia.
The $3.2-billiob Jabal Omar complex is part of a new plan to expand tourism under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s economic reform program, announced a year ago to diversify the economy away from oil.
The Saudi tourism commission has pledged to rehabilitate four sites in Makkah: Jabal al-Nour, Jabal Thawr, Hudaybiyyah and Prophet Muhammad’s migration path from Makkah to Madinah.
Hajj and the year-round lesser pilgrimage, umrah, generate $12 billion in revenues from worshippers’ lodging, transport, gifts, food, and fees, according to BMI Research.
Pilgrims comprise the bulk of Saudi Arabia’s 20 million annual foreign visitors, apart from workers and business travelers.
Nearly 2.4 million came for this year’s Hajj, up from 1.9 million last year, and 7.5 million performed umrah in 2016.
Officials aim to increase the number of umrah and Hajj pilgrims to 15 million and 5 million, respectively, by 2020 and hope to double the umrah number again to 30 million by 2030.
In addition, they hope pilgrims will be attracted to spend money at museums, luxury resorts, and historical sites.
“We love this country because it’s the cradle of Islam, the land of the revelation and the Prophet, peace be upon him,” Nasser al-Zein, a Turkish-German car dealer from Frankfurt, told Reuters as he performed Hajj.
“We’d love to spend our money here, more than in the West. Here, it’s an Islamic country.”