More than 2 million pilgrims are expected to visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for this year’s annual Hajj that brings together Muslims from across the globe. Hajj is one of the five Islamic pillars. Unlike the compulsory five daily prayers, Hajj is made obligatory upon only the able bodied Muslims with the finances to sponsor their trip to the two holy places of Mecca and Medina.
Assured of millions of visitors every year for the Hajj and with millions more Muslims visiting year round for the lesser Hajj (Umrah), Saudi Arabia is increasingly positioning itself to rake in tons of money from faithful Muslims where ever they may come from. The money the kingdom is making from Hajj is so good that it plans to diversify its portfolio from oil to Hajj.
Apart from oil and gas, the Hajj sector is the second most important money earner for Saudi Arabia. With projections around 2.7 million official pilgrims expected to visit the kingdom annually by 2020, the Saudi authorities are working round the clock to boost growth in the pilgrimage sector in a bit to reduce its dependency on oil and gas, this according to the official Saudi Gazette.
With promising numbers in pilgrim arrivals expected every year, the government is re-positioning Hajj so as to make it contribute more to the economy. An increase in the sector is also expected to help reduce the kingdom’s unemployment rate. Currently the unemployment rate stands at a staggering 12. 7 %.
This year alone, the kingdom is expected to earn over $10 Billion (USD) from the Hajj. Data available from independent sources indicate that on average a pilgrim will this year spend $4633 within the kingdom. The housing sector as the leading cash cow is expected to bring in almost $5 Billion (USD) in revenue. The kingdom is also looking to make a little over $2 Billion US dollars from gifts alone. The Saudi beverage and communication industries are both expected to be big winners as well.
With over $87 Billion (USD) budget deficit last year mainly due to the falling oil prices and the quagmire the kingdom is embroiled in Yemen, the pilgrimage industry is seen by the Saudi Royal family as a good candidate in helping to balance its budget. Critics of the Saudi Royal family argue that the kingdom’s move to make Hajj its principal revenue line in its budget runs against the idea of ‘The Custodian of the two Holy Cities,’ the mandatory title that every Saudi King likes to be addressed with.
Written by Mamudou Jallow