Hotels in Mecca were forced to cut peak room rates for the Haj season, in response to a second consecutive fall in the number of foreign pilgrims visiting the city because of the Grand Mosque renovation and concerns about the Middle East respiratory syndrome.
Haj, which brought millions of Muslims to Mecca this week, is traditionally one of the busiest times of the year for hotels in the city, together with the month of Ramadan, thanks to an enormous influx of pilgrims from both within and without the kingdom.
But a drop in numbers of foreign pilgrims prompted hotels to discount rates to ensure full occupancies. A typical room at the Al Marwa Rayhaan Hotel, operated by Rotana and located next to the Grand Mosque, costsabout 4,000 Saudi riyals (Dh3,917) during Haj, compared with 800 to 900 riyals during the off-peak season, the hotel said. By contrast, the rate during 2011’s Haj season, when the number of foreign pilgrims was at its highest, was 6,000 riyals.
If other hotels “don’t slash their rates, then they’ll still have vacancies”, said a member of Al Marwa’s reservation staff.
Mövenpick Hotel & Residence Hajar Tower, which also looks out over the Grand Mosque, was charging an average of 3,900 riyals a night during the Haj this year, compared with 4,500 riyals two years ago.
The Hilton Towers Mecca, also located next to the Grand Mosque, cut nightly rates by 30 per cent compared with two years ago. A spokesman said the hotel had been only 95 per cent full because of a reduction in the number of higher net worth pilgrims.
The reduction in rates is not confined to luxury hotels.
The Bab Al Mutazam Concorde Hotel, located several kilometres away from the Grand Mosque, reported its third year of full occupancy during the Haj, thanks to a long-standing arrangement with an Iraqi tour group. However, a duty manager at the hotel said the rate for a typical room was 500 to 600 riyals, compared with 700 to 1,000 riyals three years ago.
Saudi Arabia has limited the number of permits for pilgrims conducting the Haj because of extensive construction work being conducted at the Grand Mosque. Authorities cut the number of Saudi pilgrims by half and reduced the number of visas issued to foreign pilgrims by 20 per cent.
The number of foreign pilgrims performing Haj in Mecca fell this year to 1.38 million from 1.76 million in 2012, according to figures released by the interior ministry on Sunday.
The number of foreign pilgrims reached a peak in 2011 of 1.83 million visitors.
The restoration and expansion work at the Grand Mosque is expected to be completed by 2015.
Pilgrim numbers this year were also affected by concerns about the Middle East respiratory syndrome (also known as Mers), which has claimed nearly 50 lives in the kingdom, as well as 11 lives in the Middle East and Europe since September 2012.
It was reported that two Saudi nationals had died of the virus on the eve of the Haj season, but since then the pilgrimage has passed off largely free of infection.