The Ministry of Haj has increased the number of Ramadan visas for foreign pilgrims by 16 percent, according to Walid Abu Saba, head of the Tourism and Hotel Committee at the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The news has been welcomed by Umrah travel agents and hoteliers.

The ministry had planned to issue 792,000 Umrah visas this Ramadan. But faced with the rising demand from external agents and complaints of low occupancy by hotel owners in Makkah and Madinah, it has decided to issue up to 911,000 visas. Last Ramadan, 674,000 visas were issued.

Expressing his gratitude to the government, Abu Saba told Arab News the increase will have a direct impact on hotel occupancies in the two holy cities. He expected 80 percent occupancy for the first 20 days of Ramadan as against 65 percent that he had estimated a week before. He expected the last 10 days to be even better.

Barring the slump witnessed in Rajab and Shaaban, the Umrah sector has performed exceptionally well this year. Abu Saba said the figure for foreign pilgrims’ arrivals is going to touch four million this year, which will be a record in itself.

Hotel owners are reporting increased occupancy during the last few days. Among the noticeable pilgrims are nationals of Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC). According to Shaji Nehal, a travel industry executive and long-time Umrah watcher, since GCC nationals do not require visas to travel to Saudi Arabia their travel plans remain very fluid. Many of them decide to perform Umrah after breaking their fast on the first day of Ramadan, and the advent of the holy month motivates many others to make last-minute decisions. Hence, as Ramadan progresses so does the influx of pilgrims.

Meanwhile, hotel rooms in Makkah and Madinah have become costlier by more than 500 percent. A normal room in a five-star hotel which otherwise is available for SR750 is now being rented for SR4,000 per night. Ramadan rates for hotel rooms in the two holy cities give an interesting read.

In Dar Al-Tawheed a weekday room, including iftar and suhur, is available for SR4,105 per night. Three-day weekend package (Wednesday-Friday) is SR18,525.

Hilton, Makkah: Weekdays 2,520 per night with iftar; three-day weekend package SR10,530 with iftar.

Zamzam Tower, Makkah: Weekdays SR1,750; three-day weekend package SR7,500.

In Madinah, the same rate applies throughout the week and all the packages come with iftar and suhur. Hence, Madinah Hilton (SR2,500 per night); Madinah Oberoi (SR2,000 per night); and Dar Al-Iman Madinah (SR1,500 per night).

Rates for the last 10 days of Ramadan in Makkah and Madinah are different. No rate is available for Dar Al-Tawheed as the rooms are sold out in advance. Hilton Makkah: SR56,000 (city view); SR61,000 (Haram view).

Zamzam Tower: SR37,000 (city view); SR42,000 (Haram view).

Movenpick Hajar Tower: SR55,000 (city view only).

Madinah Oberoi (SR2,270); Dar Al-Iman (SR1,950); and Hilton Dar Al-Taqwa (SR2,400).
Source: Arab News