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Nashat M. Bukhari
General Manager, Amadeus Saudi Arabia
Tourism in Saudi Arabia is mainly based around religious pilgrimage to Makkah, which receives over three million pilgrims a year for Hajj, and a smaller but still significant number during the month of Ramadan for Umrah. Infrastructure upgrades are being made in Makkah to accommodate an expected increase in the number of pilgrims in the future.
Two mega projects are ongoing in the Makkah region, including construction of the new Jeddah Airport which will serve up to 80 million passengers per year when all 3 phases are complete. Phase 1 is expected to be complete by the end of 2014, accommodating 30 million passengers per year. Additionally, theHaramain High Speed Rail Projectwill link the holy cities of Makkah and Medina via Jeddah, transporting millions of Hajj and Umrah visitors once completed.
The Saudi Government has urged Islamic countries to reduce their Hajj and Umrah visitors until the expansion projects to the Holy Mosque in Makkah are completed over the next three years. The government also urged all Saudi citizens not to perform Umrah during Ramadan in order to leave space for visitors from other countries. Regional political tensions also contributed to a decreased number of travellers this year.
Travel providers and distributors should keep an eye on these projects and regional developments in order to take advantage of inbound travel to Saudi Arabia and the ongoing trend of increased domestic bookings during the Ramadan and Hajj seasons.