While looking at the Vision 2030 of the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud, private and public sectors are uniting to offer exceptional pilgrimage experience. In a discussion among investors, Saudi Arabia plans to recover from losses incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic and revive Umrah and Hajj sector by boosting private and public sector partnership. Dr Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, the Hajj and Umrah minister, Saudi Arabia, has asked for cooperation among both sectors to expand and better the services offered to the pilgrims in Makkah and Madinah. Investors and the ministers organised a meeting in the Chamber of Commerce, Makkah to discuss the matter. At the meeting, he emphasized the significance of the unification of private and public sectors for the economic revival of the pilgrimage.
Key ideas discussed to revive Umrah, Hajj
An investor, Ahmed Bajaiffer said, with the expansion of cooperation, supervisory tasks can be allocated to various airport reception firms, offence monitoring firms, surveillance firms and more, which were previously appointed to the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah (MoHU). Another idea proposed was to make a sovereign fund for Umrah and Hajj Development that the state will monitor.
“The fund will support the private sector’s initiatives in exchange for investment partnerships that manage all the sector’s details,” said Bajaiffer. Further, a central system and various subsidiaries owned publicly and privately will help conduct Umrah services uninterrupted during the pandemic and expansion of Masjid Al-Haram.
“There is more leeway now for ideas and innovation to provide better services, based on a completely nationalized sector,” he added. Further, he said, “the stronger the industries in the Hajj and Umrah system are, the more positive the outcome.”
In the meeting, the authorities and investors reached a consensus that they will have to identify the areas responsible for the breach of confidence to enhance the services. After identifying the worst-affected area, it will be easy to restore the confidence in services offered and revive Umrah and Hajj.
Insights shared by Moshin Tuttla, the Head of World Hajj and Umrah Convention
Moshin Tuttla, the head of World Hajj and Umrah Convention, said, “Before COVID-19, we were witnessing a perpetual compound 10 percent annual growth in pilgrim numbers; with recorded figures estimated around 18 million Umrah pilgrimages in 2019, successfully growing in line with the Vision 2030 outlined forecasted figures. The decimation of pilgrimage numbers imposed by COVID-19 and its variants has crippled the underpinning ecosystem that has been supporting the smooth operation of the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages.”
“Nothing could be further from the truth; the objective is to ensure that the Hajj and Umrah ecosystem is self-sustainable with a reduced dependency on financial subsidy provided by declining oil revenues. It is about creating a model where the experience expectation of the pilgrimage remains in line with the pilgrim expectation and supported by its own performance as a sector,” he added.
Some of the factors barring the expected growth are chain debts, confidence breaches in the ecosystem of Hajj and Umrah, loss of talents from different countries, and uncertain times during the pandemic. “Having identified core challenges restricting a bounce back by the private sector, we can begin to devise practical strategies to help rejuvenate the Hajj and Umrah sectors,” added Moshin.
“As an ecosystem, we need to identify where all the breaches of confidence remain and how to restore confidence, attract new investors into operating core services or provide bailout packages so the worst-affected sectors can restart,” said Tuttla. Moreover, he addressed the need to train and introduce new staff for quality and safe Umrah and Hajj experience.
To increase the entry of more pilgrims, unification of the private and public sector will help develop a successful self-sustaining ecosystem adhering to Vision 2030 and also revive Umrah and Hajj.