By Tareq Wahab
In recognition of its historical obligation and with a deep sense of honor, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques government has prioritized providing exceptional services to worshippers in Makkah and Madinah. In its unwavering commitment to fulfilling the spiritual needs of the pilgrims and Umrah performers, Saudi Arabia has undertaken significant investments to establish an outstanding infrastructure that will welcome the anticipated influx of faithful visitors in the years to come.
As part of the ambitious Vision 2030, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has set forth a dedicated mission to ensure that pilgrims and Umrah performers experience world-class services throughout their spiritual journeys. With an emphasis on peaceful and hassle-free religious obligations, the government aims to expand the Hajj and Umrah apparatus, reflecting its historical role in supporting Islam and Muslims worldwide.
At the forefront of this mission lies the Pilgrims Experience Program, introduced by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in 2019. This groundbreaking initiative, a crucial component of Saudi Vision 2030, seeks to enhance the spiritual experience of all pilgrims visiting the Kingdom while eliminating obstacles hindering their concentration on their sacred journeys.
To facilitate transformative faith experiences for pilgrims, the government has implemented several strategic megaprojects:
1. The awe-inspiring expansion of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, the most expensive construction project in history, surpasses a cost of over 200 billion Saudi Riyals.
2. The introduction of the Haramain Train, a remarkable feat of engineering that has reduced travel time between Makkah and Madinah from three hours and thirty minutes to just over two hours, ensuring an enhanced travel experience for pilgrims.
3. The completion of King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah, a crucial hub in the Muslim world, designed with a capacity to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims and visitors, representing an investment of 64 billion Saudi Riyals.
4. Efforts to restore historical mosques and cultural sites in Makkah and Madinah have been initiated, aiming to revive their Islamic grandeur and provide visitors with an opportunity to immerse themselves in a rewarding cultural journey.
5. The launch of “Nusuk Hajj,” an innovative online platform offering over 120 services in nine languages, enabled pilgrims from the Americas, Europe, and Australia to conveniently book flights, accommodations, transportation, catering, and other services.
This government-sponsored portal responds to previous measures that fell short of ensuring a fulfilling pilgrimage experience for the millions who travel to Makkah and Madinah. Its primary objectives include:
• The elimination of fraud.
• The promotion of transparency.
• The implementation of fair mechanisms for pilgrim selection.
Moreover, the government has implemented a range of measures and protocols to make the pilgrimage and Umrah more affordable and spiritually fulfilling for a growing number of Muslims worldwide:
1. Early Hajj registration has been introduced, allowing B2C stakeholders ample time to plan their once-in-a-lifetime journey.
2. Encouraging competition among well-qualified Hajj and Umrah service providers is a key strategy, as it will help lower costs and enhance service quality.
3. The government has substantially reduced the insurance cost for Hajj and Umrah by 63% and 73%, respectively, without compromising the highest standards of medical care.
4. Efforts to expedite visa issuance to less than 24 hours, extend the 30-day Umrah visa to 90 days, and introduce the four-day transit visa have been implemented, further facilitating pilgrims’ travel.
These unprecedented reforms aim to attract and welcome more Umrah performers to Makkah and Madinah, allowing them to experience the breathtaking natural beauty and remarkable cultural diversity that Saudi Arabia offers.
Under the remarkable leadership and directives of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and His Royal Highness Prince Muhammad bin Salman, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, in close collaboration with its partners, is committed to going above and beyond to provide top-quality services and state-of-the-art solutions. The supreme goal is to ensure that the guests of Allah have a profound, blissful journey and return home with cherished and lasting memories. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 promises to revolutionize the pilgrimage experience, leaving a deep-rooted mark on the hearts of pilgrims worldwide.
Tareq Wahab is a freelance journalist based in Jeddah.