By Sara Aggour
Saudi Arabia has reduced the number Egyptians permitted to perform hajj this year by 20%, a move expected to hurt Egyptian tourism companies.
The Saudi government cited ongoing infrastructural projects in the holy city of Mecca as the primary cause for the cut.
Elhamy El-Zayat, the chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, said tourism companies will face “definite losses” due to the decision.
“Figures from the Ministry of Tourism and federation tried to communicate with the authorities in Saudi Arabia but their decision is final and will be applied to all [countries],” El-Zayat said.
Egypt’s Minister of Tourism, Hisham Zaazou, cancelled a planned visit to Canada last week to visit the Saudi kingdom with members of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, in the hope the Saudis would reconsider.
The cut, which has been applied to all countries, comes as the kingdom continues construction at the Holy Grand Mosque in Mecca, the destination for Muslim pilgrims. The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Hajj has also reduced the number of its native pilgrims by 50%.
El-Zayat explained that the losses were further enhanced by the late announcement of the decision. “Several companies and many Egyptians had already booked flight tickets and made reservations in hotels and apartment building,” El-Zayat said.
Rabee Abu El-Ela, the general manager of religious tourism at Trafeco agency, said agencies start booking for Umrah and Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, four months before Ramadan.
“The decision caused our company huge problems,” he said. “The refunds for tickets and reservations were not easy. Around 400,000 Egyptians go to Umrah during the holy month of Ramadan; this year I expect the number to shrink to 100,000,” Abu El-Ela said.
El-Zayat said even though the decision decreased the number of pilgrims this year, the expansion will result in an eventual increase in the size of the Holy Grand Mosque. It was reported that the expansion will add 400,000 square metres and raise the capacity of the mosque to accommodate more than 2.2 million Muslims.