MAKKAH – There has been a 10 to 15 percent increase in the number of Umrah pilgrims this year compared to the same period last year, according to the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s national committee on Haj.
Saad Al-Qurashi, acting chairman of the committee, said the increase coincided with the start of the new Umrah program.
The number of Umrah pilgrims will exceed the one million mark during this period, Al-Qurashi was quoted as saying in sections of the Arabic press.
The majority of Umrah pilgrims are from Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Algeria, Morocco and Egypt, he pointed out.
Hotel occupancy rates are high in Makkah especially in the areas close to the Grand Mosque, he added.
Al-Qurashi said the government should consider allowing 35 Umrah companies, suspended over the last four years, to operate again because of the rising numbers of pilgrims. He said there are only about 50 Umrah companies operating currently.
Meanwhile, an Umrah expert said new procedures will be applied this season to prevent overcrowding at King Abdul Aziz International Airport during peak hours. “Umrah companies will not be allowed to take Umrah pilgrims to the airport unless their reservations have been confirmed and the airplanes to fly them home have arrived at the airport.”
Al-Qurashi said there is coordination between the committee, Saudi Arabian Airlines, General Authority of Civil Aviation and international airline companies to prevent overcrowding at the airport. Al-Qurashi said overcrowding occurs because flights do not take off on time or have not arrived at the airport.
A study conducted by Makkah Urban Observatory found that there have been over three million Umrah pilgrims every year since 2005. In 2008, there were 3.2 million Umrah performers, while in 1999 there were 1.6 million, according to the study.
Al-Qurashi said measures introduced by the Ministry of Haj, Passports Department, Umrah companies and the national committee of Haj and Umrah have reduced the percentage of Umrah overstayers, according to the chamber’s report.
The report indicated that the Umrah sector creates 1,500 seasonal jobs for Saudis in the cities of Makkah, Madina and Jeddah. – SG