Saudi Arabia’s decision to cut the number of pilgrims to the Islamic holy city of Makkah will push up the cost of performing Umrah and Haj by 35 percent, according to a member of the Makkah Chamber for Commerce and Industry.
Saad Al-Qurashi, a member of the Haj and Umrah Committee at chamber, said the cost would have to increase to compensate for the reduced number of pilgrims.
The government has limited the number of foreign pilgrims to Makkah by 20 percent and Saudi pilgrims by 50 percent due to ongoing construction work as part of its $21bn expansion of Islam’s holiest mosque. The expansion is expected to increase the mosque’s capacity to 2m pilgrims.
It has not been officially stated for how long the limit will apply but Al-Qurashi said he expected it to continue for three years.
The Saudi Arabian tourism industry and Umrah visa operators also claim they will lose SR5bn ($1.3bn) in revenue due to the reduced number of pilgrims this year, as well as the decision to limit their visas to 14 days.
The National Committee for Haj and Umrah (NCHU), which represents companies that facilitate pilgrims’ trips to Makkah, claims the decision announced this month came too close to Ramadan, when most pilgrims make their journey, and Umrah operators could be forced to refund some visas issued for longer than 14 days.
Hotels, airlines and other tourism operators also would lose out.
“Most Haj and Umrah companies are trying to put together a new plan to balance the reduced number of pilgrims and the price of the Haj pilgrimage,” Al-Qurashi told Arab News.
“Most Haj and Umrah companies will reorganise themselves to host fewer pilgrims. Haj and Umrah companies will increase their prices to avoid any losses caused by the decline in the number of pilgrims.”
Haj prices already rose 30 percent last year, with companies claiming they had to hire extra staff at a higher cost to accommodate last minute pilgrims because the Haj Ministry had been too slow to allocate spaces at the holy sites.
Economist Fadal Abu Ainain warned against companies colluding to keep prices high.
“The reduced number of pilgrims should reduce prices due to low demand. Haj and Umrah companies cannot agree among themselves to increase the prices of their services,” Abu Ainain told Arab News.
“In 2012, Haj and Umrah companies increased their prices due to high demand. There were around 3 million pilgrims at the time. Haj and Umrah companies should avoid playing with prices this year.”