The Saudi Arabian tourism industry and Umrah visa operators claim they will lose SR5bn ($1.3bn) in revenue after the kingdom limited the number of Umrah visas and their duration.
Muslim pilgrims who make the voyage to Makkah will now only be allowed to stay in Saudi Arabia for 14 days because of renovations and an expansion of the Grand Mosque, Islam's holiest site.
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.
“The loss to Umrah firms and institutions will be colossal during the upcoming season as the decision of the Ministry of Haj came late, notably after the Umrah firms had entered into contracts and obligations with Umrah agents outside the kingdom,” NCHU deputy president Abdullah Qadi told local media.
Head of the Hotels and Tourism Committee at the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, head Walid Abu-Sabaa, said limiting the Umrah visas would be “disastrous” for Umrah-related companies.
It has been reported that the Ministry of Haj would force pilgrims who performed Umrah during the upcoming Ramadan into two scheduled groups to ensure they did not stay in the kingdom for more than 14 days.
Qadi called on the ministry to reconsider the decision in light of the huge financial impact and said a reduction in the number of foreign Umrah pilgrims would not solve congestion issues due to the expansion of the Grand Mosque, according to Arab News.
Instead, the NCHU has submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Haj on how to organize Umrah pilgrims, including restricting worshippers from entering the circumambulation area (mataf).
The expansion the Grand Mosque in Makkah will allow it to receive 2m pilgrims at a time and is the largest expansion ever undertaken of the site.
The project has been reported to cost more than $21bn.
A new railway also is being built to improve transport to Makkah, while the city is undergoing a major facelift with new skyscrapers and hotels to accommodate visitors.
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