Authorities in Saudi Arabia say they will issue 6m visas for umrah pilgrimages, according to the Gulf kingdom’s Ministry of Haj, up from 5.5m last year.
The ministry so far this year has distributed 4m visas for foreign nationals to come to the country and perform Islamic pilgrimages, with 3m from more than 70 countries already having visited in 2013.
Ali Mohammed Al-Ghamdi, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Haj, told English language Saudi Gazette that pilgrims’ spending accounts for 3 percent of gross domestic product in the Gulf’s most populous country. Last year, visitors for haj and umrah pilgrimages spent SR62bn ($16.5bn) in the country, a 10 percent rise from the prior year.
Al-Ghamdi said that Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and Iran sent the largest number of pilgrims, with each visitor spending between SR7,000 and SR15,000 each.
He added that Saudi was implementing a new electronic visa system which would help ensure that pilgrims returned to their home country after completing umrah. In 2012, 25,000 out of 5.5m foreign visitors did not leave Saudi after completing their pilgrimage.
The current umrah season started on December 14 last year and will last until the end of Ramadan, which is due to fall in August this year.
Umrah and hajj are two of the main pilgrimages in the Islamic faith, with both involving Muslims visiting holy sites in Makkah.For all the latest travel news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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