A man gets a vantage view of fellow pilgrims circling the Kaaba in Makkah and praying during Umrah on January 10, 2014. Construction cranes are also seen around the Grand Mosque, which is currently undergoing an expansion to accommodate more pilgrims. (Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)
The decision taken by the Haj Ministry to issue Umrah visas during the month of Safar has proved to be a boon to domestic tourism with about 750,000 pilgrims performing Umrah during the month.Al-Sayed Ahmed Sheikh Alwi, an expert in the economics of Haj and Umrah tourism, said the ministry had, with its decision, succeeded in attracting pilgrims which had registered a shortfall last year due to expansion of the Holy Mosque.The official figure of 750,000 pilgrims during the month is a record compared to last year, and the number of Umrah pilgrims from all over the world is expected to touch six million this year. This is expected to give a boost to domestic tourism, which in turn will increase national income, he said, adding that this will also help cover the months when there would be no Umrah pilgrims coming to the Kingdom.“The tourism sector, airlines, hotels, transportation and other sectors are ready to take advantage of the development. Last year, the Haj Ministry reduced the number of Umrah pilgrims by 20 percent from all countries even during peak seasons as also in the month of Ramadan and Shaban following concerns over pilgrims’ safety,” he said.The current Umrah season began on Dec. 4 last year and will go on till the end of Ramadan in the last week of July. The ministry has also created a worldwide network for receiving and issuing Umrah visas and linked it to the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs, besides other government bodies.This network will play a significant role in following up on the regulatory conditions of the Umrah companies and establishments, fulfillment of conditions and requirements laid down in the regulations for providing services by Umrah companies and establishments under the supervision and follow-up of the Ministry of Haj.The ministry’s Umrah e-track service will help in keeping track of arrival and departure of pilgrims, standard of services offered by Umrah companies and agents.Al-Sayed said the will monitor the final departure of Umrah pilgrims and ensure they exit on time from the ports where they arrived.This will be accomplished through monitoring by electronic system to follow up the departures, starting from the time of registering the date of departure, to preparing the Umrah pilgrims for departure to putting them in buses heading toward the airports in a timely manner.
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