By P K Abdul Ghafour
JEDDAH, Jan 13 — Saudi Arabia announced on Sunday that it would continue to impose a 20-percent cut in foreign pilgrims and a 50-percent reduction in domestic pilgrims during the upcoming Haj season, Arab News reported.
“The government will continue to request foreign countries to slash the quota of their Haj pilgrims by 20 percent due to ongoing expansion works in Makkah and the holy sites,” said Haj Minister Bandar Hajjar.
Speaking to the Turkish Haj mission, he said the measure was taken upon directives issued by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to ensure the safety and security of pilgrims.
Hajjar said Saudi Arabia would be able to host more pilgrims once the expansion works for the Grand Mosque and “mataf” are completed.
Saad Al-Qurashi, chairman of the National Committee for Haj and Umrah at the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the early announcement of the government’s decision to reduce the number of Haj pilgrims would help Haj service companies and hotels avoid losses.
“We understand that this reduction will continue for one more year,” he told Arab News.
Last year, Haj service providers in Makkah and other cities suffered losses worth SR2 billion for renting hotel rooms, arranging food and purchasing plane tickets, especially because of the drastic reduction in the number of domestic pilgrims.
Khaled Al-Kaf, a manager of a Haj service company, said last year’s decision to cut the number of pilgrims came to them as a surprise. “The late decision had a negative impact on our Haj preparations,” he said.
Hajjar highlighted the success of the electronic track system applied on Haj pilgrims. “It enabled pilgrims to know the various services they would enjoy before arriving in the Kingdom.”
Hajjar said the electronic system has made things clear and transparent and the issuance of Haj visas faster. “It also ensures better services to pilgrims.”
The minister’s meeting with foreign Haj missions was aimed at making early preparations for the upcoming Haj season. Saudi Arabia has established about 70 offices worldwide to provide Haj-related services.
Hajjar emphasized the strong relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Mehmet Gormez, head of religious affairs in Turkey and the country’s mission, commended Saudi Arabia’s efforts to improve Haj services.
“Saudi Arabia has been shouldering this great responsibility over the years with dedication and efficiency,” Gormez said.
He said the meeting would help the two sides make early arrangements for pilgrims. He stressed the importance of educating pilgrims about Haj-related matters prior to their arrival in Saudi Arabia.–Arab News