Religious tourism reaches new heights

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The Holy Masjid al Haram in, Makkah. Saudi Arabia
The Holy Masjid al Haram in, Makkah, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia reportedly earned an estimated $16.5 billion during the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage season in 2012. Photo-Adeel Anwer

Saudi Arabia earned an estimated USD 16.5 billion from pilgrimage rituals of Hajj and Umrah in 2012, a 10 percent increase compared to the previous year.

A record number of over 7 million pilgrims flocked the kingdom to perform holy rituals in the cities of Makkah, Madinah and at other religious sites. Each religious tourist spends an average of about USD 10,000 on every visit to the country.

Saudi Arabia, the largest economy in the Arab world, has set aside a budget of USD 219 billion for spending on projects related to education, healthcare, social benefits and infrastructure. Income from religious tourism now accounts for about 3 percent of the kingdom’s gross domestic product. Tourism has grown to become the country’s second largest industry, now employing about 8 percent of total jobs in the country.

The government is encouraging participation of private sector to meet the growing demand in tourism and hospitality industry. The holy city of Makkah is central to expansion plans in tourism and hospitality industry of the country as it would set the trend for coming times and create more jobs in the sector. By 2015, the kingdom is expected to have 343,000 hotel rooms to meet the demand of growing number of tourists. The growth potential offered by Saudi market has attracted world-famous hotel chains, including Rotana, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, Accor and Raffles Hotels & Resorts.

To reduce its reliance on oil exports, the Saudi government has been actively marketing itself as a tourism destination. Along with reforms in other areas of the economy, the tourism and hospitality sector is being paid special attention to encourage domestic and religious tourists, and visits by businessmen from all over the world. The government has also undertaken intensive efforts on different social networking sites, hosting festivals and other events to promote the Saudi culture and heritage.

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