JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – The number of religious tourists is expected to rise from 17.5 million recorded last year to between 25 and 30 million in 2025, which would be a boost to the country’s economy, say economists.
The contribution of religious tourism to the non-oil sector of the country’s Gross Domestic Product would rise from 5.4 percent to 5.7 percent by the year 2020, according to a local publication recently.
A report from Al-Jazira Capital quoted by the publication said that the government has been preparing for the expected demand by investing heavily in infrastructure projects.
This includes the Makkah metro and the expansion of Prince Mohammad bin Abdulaziz Airport in Madinah. The report stated there could be space to develop more luxury hotels, because 43 percent of Makkah hotels are three star facilities, and 46 percent in Madinah are three star and above.
According to the report, 250 tour companies meet the needs of religious tourists. This number would increase as more people visit, including for holidays and entertainment.
Religious tourism activities are concentrated in the holy cities, Makkah and Madinah, which are in the western part of the Kingdom. The hospitality market in these two cities is linked to Haj and Umrah in Makkah, and visits to the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.
Anees Mo’mina, executive president of Sedco Holding, said the religious tourism sector is undergoing rapid growth and is becoming an attractive environment for investors, and creating jobs for young Saudis.
He said the government’s investment in infrastructure, including a public transport network, would help grow this part of the tourism industry, and see more private sector investment.
Mo’mina said there is currently extensive support for the industry from various government ministries and agencies, including the Ministry of Labor and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage.
The focus is on training Saudis to take up positions in the tourism industry, which would ensure less dependence on foreign labor. There needs to be a national training program in place to ensure this happens.
He said it was likely that the number of religious tourists would grow from last year’s 17.5 million to an estimated 30 million in 2025 if the country completes all the development in Makkah and Madinah.
Ziyad bin Mahfouth, executive for Elaf group, said the Haj season plays a critical role in religious tourism, with growing numbers over the past few years. It is expected that the number of Haj pilgrims would grow from the current 2 million to 5 million in 2025, he said.