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Sun 28 Sep 2008 10:35 AM

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Businesses hit by Umrah visa changes

Cut in length and number of Umrah visas costing Makkah businesses more than $266mn annually.

Saudi Arabia’s decision to reduce the length of Umrah visas and restrict the number issued each month will cost businesses in Makkah more than $266 million annually, according to executives in the Umrah service sector.

Jameel Al-Qurashi, head of the Haj and Umrah Committee at the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Saudi daily Arab News the new system had also reduced the number of foreign pilgrims coming for Umrah during the holy month of Ramadan.

Khalil Bahadur, a member of the National Committee for Haj and Umrah and owner of several hotels in the central region of Makkah, said there had been at least a 30 percent reduction in occupation rates in the city.

Saudi authorities reportedly cut short the validity of Umrah visas to discourage people who have been issued visas from deferring their travel plans. This was done in order to reduce crowds at the holy cities in peak periods such as the last 10 days of Ramadan.

In the past, individuals and tour groups who were issued Umrah visas in the lunar months of Jamad Al-Thani, Rajab and Shaaban delayed their travel in order to perform Umrah during the holy month. After the new rule has been implemented, most people cannot do so because of the short length of the visas.